Every bit of bench space was filled and extra chairs had to be brought in to Stellarton Town Council chambers on Monday, March 11.
“I’ve been sitting on council, this is I think my 17th or 18th year and I must say we’ve had a lot of items over those years and I would say that this is the most emotional and the hardest item that I have had to work with,” said councillor Garry Pentz.
He was speaking to the reason why more than 30 citizens had come to Monday’s council meeting.
“My first emotional feeling was there’s no way. We can’t close the rink,” he continued. “But when you sit down and look at the amount of work that has to be done to the rink…I can’t see us as a council opening the rink for 2019. I can’t see it.”
The Stellarton Memorial Rink will remain open as usual until March 30, but because of the high costs associated with bringing it up to code, Stellarton town council says that it will permanently cease operations.
“Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the decision is to put these renovations on the tax rate, or cease operations,” said Mayor Danny McGillivray. “That’s where we’re at today. It’s not the choice that we want to be faced with, but we are faced with it.”
During the budget deliberations for 2018 an aging building audit was conducted by the engineering firm, SNC-Lavalin. The audit concluded that nearly $4.1 million dollars would be needed in order for the 72-year-old rink to be made safe and operational.
That said, town council did decide to delay the final decision to permanently close the rink until February 2020. That gives The Stellarton memorial Rink Citizens group a little under one year to come up with alternative solutions for the 72-year-old landmark’s permanent closure.
Citizens group spokesperson Darren Stroud delivered a brief presentation requesting the February 2020 extension, as well as continued access to the rink premises in order to gather more information.
A petition circulated by the group requesting the extension has gained over 1,200 signatures.
“If favored with more time and support on part of the Town, its citizens will be in a much better position to contribute additional valuable information that will be useful to the Town’s final deliberation as to whether or not to permanently close the Stellarton Memorial Rink,” said Stroud reading the statement prepared by the group.
“Fundamentally, the citizen participation and interaction with the Town that has ensued since Jan. 23 are good things and, in fact, key ingredients to a healthy and effective local government. We’re here to help.”
The mood in the room was not adversarial, and both council and the citizens group recognized that the decision over the rink’s future is a difficult one to make.
Town council also agreed to facilitate continued access to the rink by members of the citizens group, allowing them to gather the information they need to make their final recommendations next year. However, essential services to the building like electricity and water, will cease.