A mountain of work and an equally-high pile of cash are needed to restore Penticton’s McLaren’s Arena to its former glory.
On Nov. 5 during the committee of the whole, council heard an update from city staff about the much-needed renovations at the 50-year-old facility and just what it will cost the city and its taxpayers. According to a staff report, the facility will need $1.25 million in base building repairs by 2021 just to remain operational.
“Basically the roof, the envelope structure, electrical, mechanical and refrigeration systems are all at or nearing the end of their life. Some of which we have actually had to replace in the last couple of years,” said Bregje Kozak, director of recreation and facilities with the city. “I just wanted to add too that the buildings have been well-maintained, but it’s just simply the age of the facilities.”
In March 2019, Penticton council voted to return the previously-approved $6 million Strategic Priorities Fund grant to the Union of BC Municipalities, which was intended to help with the identified cost of renovations. The reason for this was because the city could not meet the condition of the grant that required the city to secure the rest of the funding needed by March 31, 2019. Instead, council directed staff to plan for base building repairs at the arena to keep the building operational for the short-term of up to 10 years at a cost of $1.5 million.
“At the time (2017), it was estimated that McLaren Arena needed $1.5 million in upgrades just to keep the building operational. Not even two years later, those estimates are already increased to $2.1 million and that’s just based on what we know now in regards to the cost of replacement of ice plants,” said Kozak. “Throughout the process, the (Arena Task Force) did a lot of work to confirm the level of investment but they are old facilities, and unexpected costs and repairs will continue to occur. The $1.2 million noted earlier would barely cover the cost of a new ice plant, which is estimated at just over $1 million. It still needs a new roof, and eventually we will need a new slab for the ice and brine piping. And that doesn’t include any of the mechanical or electrical upgrades that are going to need to happen in the next number of years.”
According to Kozak’s report, an additional $5.1 million would be needed to modernize McLaren Arena with “functional upgrades to change rooms and the lobby” and this would put the arena out of service for six to 12 months. This renovation would extend the facility’s operations by 40 years.
Alternatively, if the city opted to convert the arena to a dry surface facility, the renovation would cost $771,000 to “remove the refrigeration” and would see the facility closed for three to six months. This would extend the facility’s operations by 10 years.
Kozak explained that while the city is undertaking an Asset and Ammenity review to “service levels and assets throughout the city and prioritize any funding and investment needs.” While the arenas will be considered through that project, she noted that certain repairs needed for the building’s base repairs – the new ice plant and roof replacement – will arise before the review is completed in 2021.
“We’ve known that the ice plant is needing replaced, primarily because it’s 35 years old and has exceeded its life expectancy. But we are also now at a point where regulations have changed,” said Kozak. “The type of refrigerant that we’re using, freon R22, will be banned from production and import as of 2020… We have spoken with BC Technical Authority and we’re unaware of any restrictions on purchase or use of that type of refigerant. So we still can use it in the plant, but it could be hard to find and will likely become very expensive as supply and demand will dictate availability and cost.”
Kozak’s report found that the arena is primarily used from September to March, where it is operating at 81.5 hours per week. The arena’s primary users are the Penticton Minor Hockey Association, the Glengarry Skating Club, public skaters, adult recreation, the Learn to Skate program and the Okanagan Hockey School.
“Our arenas are actually getting busier than they were a couple of years ago. So there are no other daytime slots or evening slots – there might be the odd one here or there – available in our exisiting arenas (for these groups). And weekends are pretty much always booked,” said Kozak. “There isn’t a capacity to take over 80 hours of ice from McLaren.”
If council decides to approve the needed $520,000 in the 2020 budget – and $505,000 in the 2021 budget – to replace the ice plant and upgrade the mechanical and electrical systems, as well as other base building repairs, the current estimated timeline would see the project start in July/August 2020 and completed in June 2021. Coun. Julius Bloomfield had Kozak clarify that if the roof repair is included in the budget for 2021, the actual amount requested that year would be $780,000.
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