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Sault College wants hockey arena. Should the city build it?

Under Sault College's proposal, one new city ice pad would be built at the McMeeken site, another on the college campus
20161014 Sault College Fall Convocation KA 05
Dr. Ron Common thinks Hockey Canada might consider a Sault College arena for its selection and training camps

If the City of Sault Ste. Marie is going to build any new ice pads to replace the McMeeken Centre, Sault College wants one of them at its Northern Avenue campus.

"We would like to request that the Sault College campus be considered as an alternative location for the additional ice surface," writes Dr. Ron Common, the college's president, in a letter sent to the city earlier this month.

"We are confident that creating a competitive advantage for the college by adding an arena on campus will be of benefit to the community," Dr. Common said. "Direct and indirect spending growth, human capital development and expansion of intellectual property are expected positive economic impacts associated with enhancing Sault College."

"A 'home' arena on campus will be unique to Sault College amongst Ontario colleges creating a competitive advantage that can be leveraged to attract students. A home arena is very desirable from a student life perspective and would appeal not only to hockey players but also to students who enjoy the atmosphere found at varsity-level sports competitions."

Common pointed out that Sault College is currently the only college in Ontario with both men's and women's varsity hockey programs.

"A home arena will also enable the college to offer unique intramural sports and specialized courses that require an ice surface. In addition, the close proximity of the Sault College campus to two of the largest local high schools facilitates partnership opportunities with the school boards. When combined with college usage, these partnerships may contribute to improved ice surface utilization during daytime hours."

"An arena on the Sault College campus may improve the ability of the community to attract high-performance hockey selection and training camps that are currently being held in other northern communities. An arena on the Sault College campus will provide convenient access to amenities such as a fitness centre that includes an 800-seat gymnasium, a state-of-the-art training room, human performance testing labs, classrooms, a cafeteria and a residence that can be used during off-peak periods."

"As an example, these amenities can be important considerations to Hockey Canada when selecting sites for their various selection and training camps," Common said.

City Council decided this week to ask LeisurePlan International Inc. and STEM Engineering Group Inc. to consider the college's proposal as part of a $15,000 study aimed at expanding ice capacity in the Sault.

Tom Vair, the city's deputy chief administrative officer for community development and enterprise services, said that initial discussions with the college have indicated that it wants to have any new campus arena operated by the city.

"They would rent ice time from the city and have the facility on campus, but the city would be in charge of ice rentals and maintenance of the arena, given the expertise we already have in that area," Vair said. 

If City Council decides to build a city arena on the Sault College campus, is the college willing to share in the costs?

"That is something we will be discussing with them," Vair said. The city's consultant, LeisurePlan, has experience in negotiating similar deals between cities and community colleges, Vair said.

The city is hopeful funding for the project may be available through the Ontario government's infrastructure plan, BuildOn.

"The province is currently negotiating a bilateral agreement for all four federally determined streams (e.g., public transit, green infrastructure, community, culture and recreation, and rural and northern funding). It is anticipated it will be two, four weeks before additional details are released on the timing and criteria for the $407 million in funding for community, culture and recreational funding," Vair said.

Who would apply for funding for a municipal arena on college property: the college or the city?

"It's probably too early to say for sure," Vair says. "We are still waiting for some of the criteria for the funding to come out. I think we would anticipate at this stage that the city would likely be the lead on the funding."

Ward 6 Councillor Joe Krmpotich and Ward 5's Marchy Bruni both expressed concern that the Sault College proposal not divert attention from the needs of the W.J. McMeeken Centre and the adjoining Northern Community Centre.

The LeisurePlan/ STEM study will also look for opportunities to expand soccer pitches there, and to look at whether the McMeeken might be upgraded or re-purposed to serve some other community need.

"Since the media coverage of the ice utilization study, the city has also had interest expressed from some user groups as to whether the McMeeken could be converted into other uses (e.g. indoor courts)," Vair said.

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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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