By Kirk Winter

Few issues can pack a room more quickly in rural Ontario than the future of the community arena. In most small towns across Ontario the three most important buildings are the school, the hockey arena and the curling club.

If one of those buildings closes it is a significant setback for the people of that town, and perhaps the beginning of the end for that community.

On Thursday night May 9, 2019 from 7 to 9pm, there will be a CKL Council meeting at the Little Britain Arena where the future of arenas in the City of Kawartha Lakes will be discussed and recommendations will be made. Members of the public are encouraged to attend this meeting.

At the time of amalgamation in 2001, the new City of Kawartha Lakes found itself the owner/operator of 10 ice surfaces. There were single pad arenas in Bobcaygeon, Fenelon Falls, Manvers, Ops, Emily/Omemee, Little Britain, Oakwood and Woodville. Lindsay featured the recently built Recreation Complex with its twin pad ice surfaces.

Apart from the facility in Lindsay, almost all the other arenas were build in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s through a combination of donated labour, community fundraising and generous assistance from Wintario and various levels of government. These arenas were also in various states of disrepair in 2001, and the City had to make many difficult decisions regarding pressing maintenance and, in the case of the decrepit Fenelon Falls Arena, its replacement with a new facility.

While many scenarios will be presented on Thursday night, the core discussion will focus on the futures of the Oakwood, Little Britain and Emily-Omemee arenas.

The City is likely to recommend that these arenas only receive the most necessary maintenance and/or upgrades until 2027. Then in the next 10-year capital plan put forward by the City beginning in 2028, Council will likely approve the building of a new single pad arena in the Village of Omemee. Council in the same 2028-2037 budgeting cycle will possibly move forward with a new twin pad arena in the Southwest Area to replace the current facilities in Little Britain and Oakwood.

This will be a massive commitment of City resources. In 2019 dollars the Omemee arena is costed at $10 million and the new twin pad for Oakwood/Little Britain at over $18 million. The City has done their cost/benefit analysis and has concluded that these older arenas are reaching the end of their useful lives, and are soon looking at significant monies needed to keep the doors open. City studies have shown in the long run that replacing them with a new facility will be more cost efficient and a better use of limited municipal funding.

Individual Councillors have told me that they expect some push back on this proposal because there was such community involvement when these facilities were built pre-amalgamation. In most communities, locals know who dug and installed the foundations on weekends free of charge, who laid thousand of cement blocks on top of working a regular job so an arena could be built, and who in the community fundraised tirelessly or cut cheques to ensure the facility got built. When I interviewed Art Field in Little Britain last year, his pride in the Little Britain Arena was palpable, and it will be a sad and sorry day for those communities when the old arena comes down even if a newer and better one is taking its place.

Councillors also hope that this evening meeting will give the various user groups an opportunity to be in attendance at a time that doesn’t cause them to have to miss work.

Some expect that there may also be discussion of what is going on at the Manvers Arena. The Manvers Arena User Group, made up of community volunteers, has made improvements to ice utilization, facility booking processes and exterior landscaping through cooperation between the group and the City. The volunteer group continues to organize and host fundraising events in an effort to contribute to the capital investment required at the facility. The cooperation and effort of the volunteers is greatly appreciated by staff and recognized by Council.

Despite this positive example of a community getting involved in their arena, to date, no other volunteer groups have contacted staff with an interest to set up a similar group for other arena facilities.

One City Council watcher shared jokingly with me that, “there will either be four or 400 at that meeting, and even if there are only four there won’t be a dull moment guaranteed.”