Council hears Arena Complex update, moves forward with new concept

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Spruce Grove looks to be heading in the direction of a civic centre for their newest arena.

Spruce Grove council received an update on the Arena Complex project that included a new Civic Centre concept, at a regular council meeting on April 26.

“We’re here tonight to present an update on the arena project and just to give members of council and the community a bit of an outline of our presentation tonight, we will talk a bit about our journey,” said Dean Screpnek, city manager for the City of Spruce Grove. “This has been something that has been in discussions with the community for quite some time.”

The presentation, shared between Screpnek and David Wolanski, general manager of the city’s community and protective services, detailed a summary of the work done since the project’s last presentation to council in July 2020. It highlighted some key learnings and observations, provided an overview of public engagement, and outlined several new assumptions including the new concept of a civic centre.

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Facility characteristics and element of additional community spaces that included several examples of similar facilities from across Canada were also included, along with capital cost and operating cost estimates.

In July 2020, council directed administration not to proceed with the concept of a significant event centre and trim it down from three to two options, which the city took to the public for feedback and public engagement last summer. The result of that public engagement took council and the city in a different direction.

“Since that time we’ve done quite a bit of work to refine and bring forward a different proposal and a different approach, primarily based on what we heard in the community consultation, as well as a way to try to address additional community needs, that we’ll demonstrate later in Mr. Wolanski’s presentation,” said Screpnek.

That new proposal and concept presented is a true Civic Centre with a variety of uses and amenities. They include two NHL sized rinks with one having a seating capacity of a minimum of 1700 seats, a concourse area with community walking track, about 25,000 square feet of community space including a Black Box Theatre or flex space, multi-purpose rooms, a library space, and an art gallery.

The proposed Civic Centre would address a number of identified needs in the Spruce Grove community, including ice shortages, a modern facility for elite hockey, a library space, and other arts and culture investments. Additionally, the ability to host larger scale community and sub-regional events would provide increased community exposure and economic benefits to the community at large.

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Since July 2020 some of the work that’s been done but not limited to, engaging with industry contacts who have similar facilities, engaging with construction and design professionals to gain further insight into current state and possible options, analyzing previous work considering both old and new assumptions, identifying more specific operating pro forma’s in relation to other similar facilities, the city’s experience and various assumptions, engaging more directly with partners and stakeholders, and more detailed long term capital planning.

Wolanski noted in his portion of the presentation other key learnings including pre-engineered construction option, a public engagement overview which included keeping costs low, addressing ice needs, doing more than basic (subject to costs) and addressing other community needs.

Updated capital cost estimates for both the arena and cultural spaces have been reduced from the original $70.5 million down to an average of just over $47 million. Wolanski also covered information regarding operating cost estimates, which have also been reduced in half (from July 2020 estimate) to $491,000 (net deficit) for the Civic Centre (arena portion only) and also notes several operating cost areas which have not been included or are to be determined. Associated actions (preliminary design and land assembly) to council’s decision Monday night, are provided for within existing 2021 approved budgets.

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“As Mr. Wolanski highlighted, not only have we been able to look at some preliminary cost estimates that would bring the cost of the original proposal down, but significantly reduce the longer term capital investment required for both culture and recreation,” said Screpnek. “From a community building perspective, really bring these communities together while actually achieving some pretty significant financial savings for the city today, and into the future.”

Screpnet noted that tax equivalency information he presented did not imply a tax increase for amounts identified, but was presented to highlight the cost as a representation of what it would take in terms of tax revenue.

“There are many, many opportunities yet to be explored that will obviously serve to reduce the ultimate debt borrowing, which would bring down that tax equivalency in a fairly significant way,” he said.

Prior to Monday’s council meeting and presentation of the report, administration had been engaging with multiple stakeholders on the Civic Centre concept, including the Town of Stony Plain, Parkland County, TLC, Spruce Grove Saints, minor hockey, ringette, and other ice users, Spruce Grove Public Library, Allied Arts Council, Horizon Players, Stagelighters, and other private partners both in regards to recreation and arts and culture.

“I want to say that at this point, overall the feedback has been extremely positive. I think this bold and innovative approach to try to find a way to address community needs, whether that being the space of culture and the arts and the recreation and sports field, is indicative of why we’ve got some very positive feedback from our stakeholders up to this point,” explained Screpnek.

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The search for a new arena and ice surface date back several years ago to 2009 when an original needs assessment revealed an additional ice surface was one of the largest needs in the community behind a recreational pool.

The process moved forward in 2014 when the City decided to look at the feasibility of constructing a sport and event centre as an anchor project. A second study was completed in 2017 which again placed the need for ice at the forefront of residents’ minds.

In November 2017 the City submitted an application to the Coal Community Transition Fund and received $255,000 to support the next stage of project definition and feasibility assessment on the proposed sport and event centre as a component of their economic diversification strategy. The City conducted a feasibility study on the event centre and arena complex combo in 2018.

In January 2019, Spruce Grove council heard a presentation on three different twin pad arena options, with the all-in event centre likely costing the City upwards of $63 million. The basic twin ice facility was expected to come in around $30 million, while the spectator arena with community rink was expected to cost around $52 million.

Following the council meeting Monday, the city will be developing a project delivery plan, putting out a tender for preliminary design and construction management as soon as possible. Screpnek noted there will be an update to council in the fall, related to the preliminary design, final financial analysis, the elements and amenities and information around the utilization of partnerships and maximizing grants.

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“That really will be the go, no-go decision for council, whether to proceed to full design and construction following that fall presentation,” said Screpnek.

Spruce Grove mayor Stuart Houston thanked administration for the work they have done over the years. Houston said the detailed and lengthy process has led to an exciting project that is a one of the ‘key turning points’ in the future of Spruce Grove.

“The stakeholders that you talked to and identified, found this concept very appealing and it turns out that ended up meeting a lot of the needs of those citizens and the community groups that we’ve talked to,” said Houston. “I don’t know anything that we’ve done more research on within this region…it’s been an extensive process, dating back to 2009. It clearly identified the needs for a number of things in the region particularly ice, swimming pools and such.”

With the decision from council to move forward with the Civic Centre, administration is now expected to proceed with formal stakeholder engagement and agreements.

With files from Josh Thomas

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