BROCKTON – Council has given staff the go-ahead to apply for all the recreation infrastructure and energy retrofit grants that have become available recently.
Through injecting record amounts of grant money, the federal and provincial governments are supporting the recovery from COVID-19, addressing infrastructure deficits and fighting climate change.
Council had no issue with the energy retrofit grant applications. However, the Green and Inclusive Community Buildings (GICB) grant application was more controversial – it involves building a new arena.
The grant would pay 60 per cent of new builds up to $10 million and 50 per cent of new build costs over $10 million.
Brockton has been looking at the need for a new arena/community centre for some time, as the present building is aging and has deficiencies in accessibility and design. The municipality had planned to build up reserves specifically for a new arena and replace the structure several years from now.
Mark Coleman, director of community services, presented a detailed report to council outlining the different grants that are available now, but likely won’t be in the future.
“It is highly probable that fiscal restraint and a curtailing of infrastructure funding will occur following the current slate of (grant) programs ending in 2026,” stated the report.
Coleman noted grants are traditionally directed at roads, bridges, water, sewer and internet broadband services, with grants for recreation infrastructure few and far between.
In later discussion, the statement was made that the last time recreation infrastructure grants became available was the 1960s.
“Apply for all of them,” said Coun. James Lang. “It’s an absolute no-brainer. We have nothing to lose here.”
Lang explained that there’s the opportunity for support from Ottawa and the province now; in the future, who knows.
“I support Mark and staff,” he said.
Coun. Steve Adams noted applying for the grant would be giving the green light for the new arena. He expressed concerns about the proposed location for the new arena – the industrial park area.
“It needs to be in a high visibility area,” he said. “We need to look at the location.”
Adams said that before going ahead with a new arena, there needs to be discussion with the ratepayers. While he supported applying for the other grants, he said this one was “putting the cart before the horse.”
Deputy Mayor Dan Gieruszak said he supported Lang.
“This is a once-in-a-generation – or lifetime – opportunity. The last time it happened was the ‘60s.”
He urged “full steam ahead,” but move with caution.
Coun. Kym Hutcheon said she wholeheartedly agreed.
“We need to take advantage … we may never see this opportunity again,” she said.
Coun. Tim Elphick took a more measured approach, asking if the grant excluded daycares and administrative buildings and was strictly for an arena.
Coleman replied that the grant excludes administrative buildings.
“It’s geared for municipalities that have few opportunities for recreation,” he said.
While it doesn’t exclude a walking track, Coleman said the existing arena building could be reconfigured to include that.
“We need some recreation in the downtown area.”
And funding for reconfiguring an existing building is separate from funding for a new building.
Lang agreed, saying, “We have a facility that can’t support an arena but can have other recreation – walking track, pickleball – we have nothing to lose.”
There was discussion about the Elmwood arena, with both Lang and Coun. Dean Leifso supporting work on that facility. Leifso said making the building accessible would increase its capacity.
Leifso further suggested that including administrative offices as part of the arena (in Walkerton) might mean the grant wouldn’t apply to the administrative portions.
Coleman answered in the affirmative.
Hutcheon suggested looking at the present arena site as a possible location for apartment buildings – the location is within easy walking distance to downtown.
Coleman said, “We have to be mindful of the square footage of the new building.” The site on which the present arena is located isn’t very big, and it is on flood plain, which might present some difficulties. And there are the two agricultural buildings on the site.
Mayor Chris Peabody suggested applying to retrofit the present building, and ranking the applications in order of priority.
Elphick asked who would be doing the grant applications, and was told the CAO and treasurer (Sonya Watson and Trish Serratore) were looking into the matter.
Although some members of council continued to have concerns, when the matter was put to the vote, the go-ahead was given to apply for all the grants.
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times