Public meeting May 11 to debate arena’s future

McLennan town council is exploring all options regarding the future of the iconic H.W. Fish Arena. Council is ready to meet with the puiblic to hear options. It is hoped a society can be formed to operate the arena.

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

After months of planning, McLennan town council is ready to meet with the public to determine future use of the iconic H.W. Fish Arena.
An open house will be held at the McLennan Elks Hall May 11 at 7 p.m. Council hopes a group of people or an organization will step forward to consider operating the arena as a recreation facility, not necessarily with ice.
Council will present the history of the arena, latest cost estimates to operate the arena, needed repairs or renovations, and a proposed sample agreement for anyone to consider.
Currently, council does not expect anyone to come forward to install ice in the arena due to cost, but the option is always open.
Last year, the former council even considered the idea of selling the arena, but it was later decided to see if a group would operate the facility. For example, council heard the Berwyn, AB model seems to work well.
At a special council meeting Nov. 23, council decided to explore the possibility of renting or leasing the building. 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.
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.
It was then when council discussed at length in 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 Councillor Maggie 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.”
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.
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.
Councillor Marie-Anne 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.
Council will be advertising the meeting in many forms to let the public know because feedback is vital.

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