Gemini arena expansion plan

This has nothing to do with the top priority that is the Mt. Brydges Arena.

That was something hammered home several times by councillors and staff when creating a plan to expand the Gemini Arena in Strathroy was approved at the Feb. 6 council meeting.

The expansion plan will be drawn up by a+LiNK Architecture Inc with $1 million already set aside in the Recreation Facility Infrastructure Renewal Strategy Fund last year.

The idea is to have something to present in grant applications that would include an ice pad to replace the West Middlesex Memorial Centre’s (WMMC), gymnasiums, and a walking track. These would be designed so they can be built all at once or separately, as the grant opportunities arise.

Strathroy-Caradoc has already been unsuccessful at getting a grant for new gyms, according to director of community services Robert Lilbourne. It is why he said a detailed plan needs to be drawn up.

“So if we would have had a shovel-ready, tender-ready documents with site plans, geotechnical construction drawings all ready to go, I would suggest that we would have been a favoured applicant at that time,” explained Lilbourne.

That is not where they were at yet.

“We weren’t ready. We didn’t have shovel-ready projects. A drawing on the back of a cocktail napkin is essentially what we had,” said Lilbourne.

This is based on the Parks and Recreation Master Plan that also envisions an indoor turf option for WMMC when its ice is taken out. An indoor pool will rise again as a topic around 2031 if the municipality’s population has reached 30,000.

The master plan also has a new Mt. Brydges arena in it.

“I would argue Mt. Brydges is further along down the path than this project at the Gemini is,” said Lilbourne at the meeting when trying to ease concerns brought forward.

Ward two Coun. Brian Derbyshire, whose ward covers Mt. Brydges, said he knew there would be a lot of concern from Mt. Brydges residents who would make sure he heard their concerns.

“This has nothing to do with Mt. Brydges and I can’t say that enough,” said Derbyshire.

Ward two Coun. Sandi Hipple spoke of perceptions felt by some residents who perceive favouritism.

“We’re wanting to push forward but we’re actually going backwards in one area of our municipality and pushing forward in another. That’s the way it looks when a report like this comes out. I’m not saying that’s what it is, but definitely that’s how it looks,” said Hipple.

She reiterated that she supported the master plan when it was created, but along with Deputy Mayor Mike McGuire confused a report rejected by the previous council with the master plan she helped create. It is a view being shared on social media that is not in the master plan.

“I am not on board with the ice pad, especially since they had told us at the beginning that they wanted us to reduce the ice pad. And if we put this ice pad in and are obviously keeping Mt. Brydges, then we’re going to have five ice pads,” said Hipple.

There would not be five pads in Strathroy-Caradoc. The Mt. Brydges and WMMC ice sheets would be replaced, leaving the municipality with the same number it has now: four.

“I’m just going to make a comment on the elephant in the room concerning the Mt. Brydges arena. To my understanding… this report in no way stops, hinders or halts what we’re doing in Mt. Brydges. There’s still a commitment from this council to as far as I know, proceed with the Mt. Brydges arena,” said Mayor Colin Grantham.

Ward one (Strathroy) Coun. Steve Pelkman echoed that sentiment along with the other Strathroy councillors.

“As a councillor in ward one (Strathroy), I feel it’s very important to state that remains a priority for me: a new arena in Mt. Brydges is a priority for me over a new ice pad in ward one,” said Pelkman.

Said he hoped staff and the public in ward two got the message.

“It is the building in most need of attention and affects the community of Mt. Brydges more so than any addition to Gemini could to Strathroy.”

Chris Gareau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Middlesex Banner