At their January 8 meeting, in front of a standing-room only audience bolstered by about half-a-dozen young hockey players wearing Revelstoke Grizzlies jerseys, Revelstoke city council opted to approve a staff request to apply for a $9 million grant application to replace the Revelstoke Forum roof and do other upgrades to the facility, including adding a new entry, an accessibility lift, and women’s change rooms.
When it came time for the vote, council unanimously approved the staff request from the city’s parks department director, Laurie Donato, but not before discussion that focused on timing, public consultation, and various scenarios that could arise depending on the funders’ response to the grant application.
In a preface to the discussion, mayor Gary Sulz said that grant opportunities like these are “rare,” noting deficiencies at the Forum have been known for many years, and this was an opportunity to address them. “We need to act on them,” Sulz said.
For background on the Revelstoke Forum grant application, see this Jan. 4 story published on revelstokemountaineer.com.
Watch the Revelstoke city council discussion on the Revelstoke Forum grant here
Council discussion revolved around three main topics: concerns about public consultation, details on possible scenarios that could arise, and timing of the grant application.
Some councillors expressed concerns about the lack of opportunity to consult with the public on the various options.
“As soon as that [Jan. 4 Revelstoke Mountaineer] article hit I had phone calls,” said Coun. Cody Younker, who expressed frustration, saying the optics “really angered” him. “This seems to be like a [Development Cost Charges] 2.0 all over again. I just don’t understand why Revelstoke can’t have the community consultation prior to,” he said.
Councillor Steven Cross also echoed concerns about consultation, noting that staff knew about the opportunity in October: “I’m not sure I buy that we couldn’t have done something.”
In response, city parks director Laurie Donato said the city had done several studies on the Revelstoke Forum, and the plan had been to proceed to community consultation this year, but when the grant opportunity came up, staff decided it was a good opportunity. She said that the option recommended — replacing the roof and upgrading the facility — was the only viable option because the studies and documents required to apply had been completed. The other options, such as building a new arena, don’t have the necessary studies and documents in place to make them a viable option for the grant.
“Had we had more notice on the [grant] we could have gone out for community consultation,” Donato said.
“The monitoring and removal of snow on the roof was meant to be a short-term strategy,” Donato said, adding that it’s now been going on for 25 years. “At some point we have to move forward.”
In an interview with the Mountaineer prior to the Jan. 8 meeting, Donato said the new council was first briefed on the Revelstoke Forum renovation project at a council workshop on Dec. 13. “We did touch on he arena and told them a report was coming in January.” She qualified that the December presentation was general in nature and covered topics relating to parks department priorities. It did not contain details, such as the staff recommendation to repair and renovate the existing feature.
City Chief Administratve Officer Allan Chabot echoed that staff was trying to seize an opportunity: “We just thought this is an opportunity too good to pass up,” Chabot said. “Here we are asking council. Our backs are against the wall in terms of timing.”
If the grant application is fully or partly successful, the city will have the opportunity to conduct a public consultation on whether or not to accept the grant, especially if only partial funding is available.
Chabot noted that there are about 140 communities that could be applying to the small communities section of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, and that the total funding available is $95 million, so Revelstoke’s $9-million ask is about 9.5% of the total amount available. This certainly casts doubt on Revelstoke’s chance of getting everything it’s asking for.
Chabot added that it will take about two weeks of work for staff to complete the funding application, and that part of that process will likely be preparing a borrowing bylaw for the city’s proposed $1 million portion for the fund.
Donato said that out of the several repair or replace options available for the ice rink, the only option that was at a stage ready for the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program grant deadline was the roof replacement option. The others, such as building a new facility, require several more detailed studies, and would not be available for a Jan 23 grant deadline.
User group feedback
Matt Cameron is the president of the Revelstoke Minor Hockey Association. In an email to the Mountaineer, he said the hockey association’s primary concern is missing a season of hockey. “Obviously our main concern is a shut down for a year (or more). It has taken RMHA seven or eight years to rebuild after the ski hill opened,” Cameron said. “Numbers in minor hockey are now growing contrary to the [consultant David Hewko’s Arena Needs Assessment report] and the town’s population is growing, especially with young families — again contrary to his report.
“We were aware the city was researching a new build or reno as the roof was aging, but it was never relayed to be this immediate. I guess the new grant that came out in October sped this up but I wish we would have been contacted once this grant was on the radar for input,” Cameron wrote.
Revelstoke Curling Club president Bob Holland said the club supported the option to renovate the existing facility, which would mean the curling club could continue to exist. “We don’t have a problem with her recommendation, we do have a problem with other parts of the documentation.”
He had several critiques of the city’s Arena Needs Assessment report. He said the club now has 77 members, saying the membership has been “slowly” increasing. he said about 2,500 people came through the facility, including on their Friday night drop-in events. He distributed a written critique of the report which disputed several of the points in the report. For example, he noted the club doesn’t pay a $1 annual fee to use the facility, but rather 1% of their gross revenue, which amounts to about $500–$600 annually. He said the report failed to note that there are many active volunteers, and that the club employs two contract employees.
At their Jan. 22 meeting, city council will likely be presented with supplemental documentation, and a borrowing bylaw, which is required when the city plans to add to its long-term debt. The timeline for a response from the grant program is unknown, but will likely come in the spring, before the writ drops on the federal election.
Nothing will happen quickly. The city is targeting a construction start date of 2021 or 2022 for the roof replacement project. Donato said whether or not a skating season is lost due to construction is unknown. She said the project is at a “preliminary discussions” stage, and that the construction timeline has not yet been defined. Donato said it is, “quite possible that the season would be shortened, for sure. … We recognize that it could be that we lose a season.”
Analysis: It’s early in the game
The problems with the Revelstoke Forum roof have been well known for many years, and numerous engineering reports have pointed out that many remediation steps are needed. It costs about $20,000 each time the roof is shovelled (once or twice a year) and an engineer needs to oversee the process over concern the building could collapse. In addition, the facility was built in the mid-1960s and it’s aging. The upgrades proposed under this grant application would bring some parts of the facility up to current standards, such as adding women’s changing rooms and accessibility lifts. The problem has always been the money. A replacement spectator rink is estimated at $17–$18 million, and that wouldn’t include a curling surface. This option is estimated to cost $10.9 million in the Arena Needs Assessment report. The project can be scaled back if the grant is not entirely successful, but that sets up more difficult decisions. What to cut back on?
Also missing from the picture is a lifecycle analysis of the costs of various options. The city’s 2018 financial plan notes that consultation work and detailed lifecycle analysis was scheduled for 2019; that may happen in the intervening months, but it remains to be seen. When the city embarks on expensive projects, the public focus tends to be on the up-front capital costs; however, the life-cycle operational costs don’t often receive the same scrutiny, but can be just as significant as the building cost over the facility’s lifespan. One of the reasons the grant application totals $10 million, as opposed to the $10.9 million cost outlined in the Arena Needs Assessment report, is that grant applications above that threshold require additional supporting reports, including environmental impact studies looking into GHG emissions.
The trigger for the current rush is plain: a rare opportunity to get a significant capital grant. It’s pretty hard to look a gift horse like that in the mouth, but council may well face tougher decisions in the spring, depending on the response to the city’s application. Many of the current slate of councillors ran on platforms that vowed fulsome community consultations on big decisions. Then, well, stuff happens. While a proper community consultation process may not have been possible due to the tight grant deadline, taxpayers should expect an opportunity to provide input, even if it’s a yes-or-no question. In his opening remarks on Jan. 8, mayor Sulz committed to that, so there’s no reason to doubt it will happen.