Over 50 community members and users of the historic Civic Auditorium were in attendance at Monday night's Estevan City Council meeting to show their support for the re-opening of the facility.
Following the sudden closure of the 60-year-old arena on November 7th by the City of Estevan, a small sub-committee representing Estevan Minor Hockey and general supporters of the Civic was formed to dig into the numbers that persuaded City Councillors to close the rink in the interest of public safety.
That sub-committee, represented on November 20th by Chad Farr and Warren Waldegger who presented their own detailed letter and report to council, provided objections and counter-arguments to the original engineering report.
According to Waldegger, who is also a Professional Engineer, the decision to close the Civic by City Council was "premature" and a "knee-jerk reaction".
"I think there's a few hints when you look at the report that lead me to that conclusion," expressed Waldegger following the over 30-minute long presentation and discussion. "One is the timeline of council receiving the report from the engineer."
"The engineer knew that the city had been using the facility for a couple of months, so to slam the doors closed was I think Council's decision and not the engineers decision."
Waldegger was also wary of certain language in the report that included words such as: "likely", "maybe", and "probably". Waldegger believes that their needs to be certainty before a decision to close the Civic was made.
"There are things of concern in the report and we have to do some follow up, because doing nothing isn't an option," added Waldegger. "But there's more ways to tackle some of these issues and the risks associated with them than by just throwing money at them."
The sub-committee's arguments included that the costs provided in the engineers' report were based on using the Civic under it's original capacity of 2,200 people. With the major cause of concern located in the northeast corner of the arena, the sub-committee believes that maintenance can be done in that area to fix any serious issues while keeping most of the rink in it's current state.
A suggested capacity of 500 or less people was discussed, with certain areas of the building no longer accessible to parents watching hockey games, while still allowing for a positive user experience. With these new numbers, the original cost projections would change dramatically.
The sub-committee believes that with some repairs, then regular monitoring and maintenance of the facility, the Civic Auditorium could see it's life span exceed 20 years or more.
"That's always dependant on how diligent you are with your maintenance, it's no different than your home," stated Waldegger. "Homes can last a long time, there's homes that last hundreds of years. It all comes down to the TLC that you put into them."
However, Waldegger believes that the structural integrity of the Civic, one of the main reasons the building has been closed in the interest of public safety, remains strong and reliable.
"The fact that the building has been there for 60 years is an indication of its' competence," added Waldegger. "Yes, there's things in the report that the City needs to look into and monitor. But the monitoring is of critical importance."
"I don't believe that the facility is putting anyone at risk."
Following the presentation, Councillors Trevor Knibbs, Shelly Veroba and Greg Hoffart responded to the sub-committee with their views and suggestions. Each member of Council voted in favour of closing the Civic to the public two weeks ago.
Councillor Knibbs believes that putting money into fixing the aging facility isn't as worthwhile as pursuing other new options, potentially a Fieldhouse that would also include an ice surface within it.
Councillor Veroba, who was in favour of closing the Civic due to the potential liability, motioned that the City table the decision until the next meeting. That would give the opportunity for more discussion, as well as a chance to contact SaskPower, SaskEnergy, the Estevan Fire Department, and others to gather more perspectives on the building.
Councillor Hoffart spoke to quiet concerns from some that there was any sort of 'hidden agenda' with the decision to close the Civic. He stated that it seems like the main concern is around the need for a third ice surface in the City of Estevan.
The brief response from Council to the presentation ended that portion of the meeting, and the dozens of people lining the walls of council chambers filed out the door, seemingly satisfied with the presentation from the sub-committee and the productive, positive discussion between the people and their representatives on City Council.
While the sub-committee's primary goal is to reopen the Civic Auditorium as soon as possible, they will continue to work with the City of Estevan on a plan for the short-term and long-term needs of Estevan Minor Hockey and users of the rinks.
The next discussion, and possible decision on the future of the Civic, will be during the next City Council meeting in Estevan on December 4th.