In 2010, when the sparkling, new twin pad at Rotary Place opened, it seemed as if, finally, we had put to bed at least one of the recreational issues that has plagued this community for decades.
The stark reality, however, is just six years after Rotary Place opened, Orillia finds itself -- again -- at a crossroads of sorts. Should we invest money to prop up an aging rink or bite the bullet now and begin work to build a new arena?
Last week, Orillia Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) president Fior Tucci sent a letter to Mayor Steve Clarke and council urging the city to invest money in a new rink rather than pour money into Brian Orser Arena, the south-ward rink that was built in 1974 and is in need of substantial work in the coming years to keep the doors open. Tucci said the OMHA had to cancel some games and practices slated for Brian Orser Arena last fall when the arena was temporarily shut down. He said the facility is limited by outdated change rooms, lobby space and seating. The reality is the old arena is cold and spartan by todays standards.
Tucci and others dont want to go back to the future; they remember too well what happened when several previous councils spent millions and millions of dollars propping up the Orillia Community Centre before it was ultimately condemned, creating a crisis that forced the municipality to build a new arena.
Clarke understands the concerns. In an ideal world, he said, the city would be building an arena as part of the recreation centre planned for West Street. However, he said, without funding from other tiers of government, its a non-starter; the city simply cannot afford to build a new rink at this time.
So, here we are. Its Orillias own dejagrave; vu all over again.
As anyone who has tried to keep an old beloved car on the road or attempted to rehabilitate an ancient home will attest, its never an easy task. Its almost always more expensive and more difficult than planned. On top of that, its a case of diminishing returns -- something that became painfully obvious to anyone who lived here during the fall of the community centre.
As Tucci rightfully noted, if the old Gill Street arena -- which remains functional if not popular among todays players and parents -- is shut down, the OMHA would be behind the eight-ball. There is simply not enough available ice time at Rotary Place to accommodate its 670 players, let alone those from other user groups such as girls hockey, figure skating, Jr. C hockey and AAA hockey. OMHA officials say the current demand across those user groups can be barely met with three ice surfaces. They predict a fourth will be required within three to five years.
Despite that, money does not grow on trees and the city is constantly being reminded to spend wisely. Its a tough call, to be sure. The citys plan to continue to invest in Brian Orser Arena is prudent to ensure, at minimum, the facility can stay open, but only if its part of a longer-term plan to have a new facility ready before it finally gives up the ghost. And that day is getting closer and closer.
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