McLennan council exploring all options

McLennan town council is exploring all options regarding the future of the iconic H.W. Fish Arena.

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

Every avenue possible will be explored before McLennan town council decides to try to sell the H.W. Fish Arena.
At a special council meeting Nov. 23, council decided to explore the possibility of renting or leasing the building. More information will be brought to the Dec. 14 meeting for council’s consideration.
Council decided to first determine its 2022 budget before informing any potential group of its contribution before taking over the arena.
“Then they [the new group] will know what they have to come up with,” said mayor Jason Doris.
During debate, council examined the five-year expenditure report, arena usage and its history during the 1:15-minute meeting, which four members of the public attended.
The expenditure report told the story council already knew: they were incurring huge annual deficits to operate the arena, ranging from $20,293.58 in 2020-21 to $94,726.33 in 2016-17. CAO Lorraine Willier also calculated the arena used 7.45 per cent of all municipal expenditures for the Town.
The report also indicated council was using MSI [Municipal Sustain- ability Initiative] operating grant money to offset deficits at the arena. In 2019-20, for example, council spent $21,420 of MSI grant money or roughly 20 per cent of its total grant allotment from the Alberta government, and still lost $64,450.05 in operations.
Councillor Maggie Gervais asked if council could sell assets if the arena was sold. The answer was “yes” including the ice plant, boards and Plexiglas.
But the problem is still revenue generation. The last year ice was installed at the arena [November 2019 to March 2020] public skating drew an average of 4-6 per day. The arena held only squirt, novice and atom practices but very few games. Council decided to reduce rates to $80 an hour from $100 but it had little effect.
“We need programming in the arena,” noted Councillor Sue Delaurier.
Council discussed at length forming an arena society, which would be able to access additional grants, or forming a new society, but council agreed it had to be driven by the people.
“It takes awhile to set up a society,” said Councillor Margaret Jacob.
“Or get an existing society to take [the arena] on,” added Gervais.
Societies do run other arenas in the Peace Country with success. Delaurier noted Berwyn operates its arena under a society.
“It’s been working good for them the last two years,” she said.
“Really, that’s how the [Guy-Donnelly Sportex] is run,” she added. “It’s run by the farmers.”
And, she adds, after speaking to people from Berwyn, their advice was, “If the people want it, they’ll make it work.”
Jacob was concerned a new society may not install ice in the arena. She also noted the loss of the arena would affect the entire community.
“If there’s no motel, no grocery store, no arena. . .all those negative things creep in,” she said referring to where people choose to live.
Doris said council needed to explore all options before deciding the arena’s fate: shut it down, rent it, or form a society to run it.
Councillor Marie-Anne Jones said the arena’s future tied into council’s strategic plan, which council needs to update.
“That’s where we should start up with right off the bat,” agreed Delaurier.
Jacob agreed.
“You have to engage the community. That’s the biggest thing. Get people engaged and involved.”
Councillor Yvonne Sawchyn agreed all options needed to be explored.
“I don’t think we should close it.”
“Still have ice in it?” asked Doris.
“No,” replied Sawchyn. “Repurpose it.”
Delaurier remined the new council the decision to not install ice and lower taxes was popular.
“. . .not one complaint to the town office since it closed,” he said.
“We have a lot of happy people in town,” added Jones.
Council agreed to begin work on a strategic plan, which included a strategic reception plan, with community input.
Jones said any group taking over the arena has to be “a large, dynamic group” to make it work and added any plan had to generate income.
Delaurier strongly suggested council could not open the arena and install ice.
“You can’t operate these things if you don’t have money,” she said.
“You can’t do it without people.”
Forming a society may not be easy, however.
“More and more communities are having a tough time with volunteers,” said Doris, alluding to a new society and recreation activities.
“We’re in a spot for [new people] to come forward and get involved,” he added.
“People still want functions,” he continued. “People are looking for something to do. Local groups have to figure out a way to attract these people.”
Council also briefly discussed the possibility of putting a skating rink and curling rink on Kimiwan Lake.

Repairs Required

  • Six arches on the east side and one on the west need metal plates added to the structural support, then flashing installed on the exterior arches to prevent water and sun to deteriorate the wooden beams.
  • Seven more tension rods should be added above the ice surface to reduce the stress of the buttress of the arches.
  • The ice pant needs to be started this year and then shut down to drain chemicals at a cost of $3,000.

H.W. Fish Arena History
[Source: Town of McLennan]

1970 – H.W. Fish Arena constructed.
1982 – Addition of dressing room.
1986 – Addition of dressing room.
1986 – Structural repairs to the arches steel base connections.
1992 – The abutment on the east side was stabilized with driven steel piles. On the interior, steel piles were added to the wood arches to further prevent and stabilize the spreading of the wood arches.
N/A – Addition of dressing room for Lakeland Eagles.
2005 – New metal roof installed, insulated ceiling above ice surface.
2006 – New ice boards, including Plexiglas and outer netting. New condenser for ice plant. Other components of the ice plant chiller, brine pump and header piping had all been recently upgraded prior to 2005. Expansion of ice resurfacing machine room and addition of overhead exit door, and installation of new interior and exterior doors. Ice surface lights replaced. Total project cost was $369,451.75 of which the M.D. of Smoky River contributed $40,600 and Town of McLennan $45,000.
2011 – Construction of new ice pant room. New ice plant installed, donated by Town of High Prairie. Renovation of arena upstairs. Total project cost $653,015.75 of which the M.D. of Smoky River contributed $52,000 and Town of McLennan $256,015.
2013 – Roll shutters installed and new counters in food booth. Lobby and kitchen painted. New bathroom dividers installed and bathrooms painted. New boiler installed in Eagles dressing room, replaced grill in kitchen.
2017 – Upgraded dressing rooms [paint, new lights and bathroom upgrades, plumbing.] Replaced lights above ice surface. Total project cost $76,757.12 of which $36,275 was a gran

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