When Deputy Mayor Patrick O’Reilly contacted Ron Pearson and Murray Walden to inform them council had voted 5-4 to close Ops Community Centre, Pearson and Walden were shocked.
The two men, who had been instrumental to the operation and construction of Ops before amalgamation in 2001, are waiting for a meeting with Mayor Andy Letham to push for a reversal.
However, it was Letham who cast the deciding vote to close the aging arena.
They want to share with the mayor some of the history of Ops, their concerns about both how the closure occurred at the Nov. 12 council meeting, and the lack of local input into the decision.
Ron Pearson told the Advocate in a telephone interview that the Ops community was “surprised” by the decision and “the lack of public consultation” was very disappointing.
“Ops was not just an arena,” Pearson said. “It was a centre for the community. It brought the community together.”
“Folks don’t know the history of that building, and we are hoping to have a meeting with the mayor as soon as Councillor O’Reilly can arrange it so that history can be shared,” Pearson said.
“Before amalgamation, you had to book months ahead to get ice or rent the community centre,” Pearson said, “but since the city took over the rental costs have gone through the roof and little to no money has been spent on promoting the building.”
“I have no idea what the city thinks they can do with the land,” Pearson said, “as the property is serviced by well and septic only.”
Murray Walden, who along with Jack Callaghan, Philip Payne, Jim Braiser and Ken Stephens, was involved with the Ops project since the beginning, “didn’t even know closure of the arena was being discussed.”
“Pat (O’Reilly) is not happy,” Walden said. “It doesn’t make sense to close our arena when Mariposa has three.”
“When we turned the arena over to the city in 2001, Ops was in good repair and debt free,” Walden said. “Under city management things just weren’t the same. There was no incentive for volunteers to work in any capacity because money generated did not stay locally. It ended up in the city pot.”
Walden wondered if some of the councillors who voted so hastily for the closure of Ops, “did so to keep their own arenas open.”
“With our location close to Lindsay we are the overflow arena,” Walden said. “This was not the arena to close.” He says even the ball diamond is still being actively used, making the closure “a very surprising decision.”
When asked about speculation that the arena may be demolished for a re-imagined Victoria Manor or paramedics building Walden said he can’t see how it would work.
“Based on my experience with the fair board you can’t run the fairgrounds on a septic and you certainly can’t run Victoria Manor on a septic and well.”
Walden said he was looking forward to his meeting with the mayor too, and speculated if a petition was necessary “that we will do what we need to do to get things put in place. There was a lot of time and effort put into Ops and people need to know about that.”
“The city is going to need that arena with all the new development coming to Lindsay,” Walden added. “The arena structure is solid. It needs a bit of tuning up but you need to do that every year like we did. The demand will be here, not in Bobcaygeon.”
“It would be wrong to shut it,” Walden said.
On Nov. 12, the Ops Community Centre Redevelopment Update was presented to council by senior staff recommending three different levels of refurbishment for the popular facility. The costs of the different refurbishment plans ran anywhere from $2 million to $18 million dollars.
The report also stated that “historically this facility is very well used from both an ice and hall utilization perspective. Typically, Ops Community Centre ranks within the top five arenas when reviewing revenue generated by ice rentals.”
City staff also indicated that just to open the arena for the 2021-2022 season required an immediate spending of $75,000 by the city. Staff told council that “council could choose to not invest and cease further operations at the facility. Staff are not recommending this direction.”
At the same time staff told council that if they were not prepared to invest the much needed $75,000 immediately that they would recommend the closing of the facility.
A discussion at council began almost immediately on the staff recommendations catching a number of councillors off guard, believing that decisions on arenas were going to be considered at a property review early in 2021 when all city facilities were going to be looked at including areas, halls and libraries.
Both Letham and Councillor Kathleen Seymour-Fagan, negatively characterized the city-run facility calling Ops “an old rundown facility” (Letham) and “a facility falling apart for the last 19 years,” (Seymour-Fagan) raising the ire of a number of Ops community elders.
Letham spoke in favour of closing the arena. “We know we have too many facilities. We can’t afford to spend millions when we are coming out of a pandemic. We are going to have other priorities. These aren’t easy decisions. We need to cut our losses.”
Seymour-Fagan introduced the motion to close Ops Arena and called for a report as to what the property could be used for in the future. A recorded vote was taken which ended in a four-four deadlock with the mayor providing the deciding vote on closing the facility. Seymour-Fagan, along with Councillors Andrew Veale, Doug Elmslie and Tracy Richardson voted along with Letham to close Ops permanently.
Council has already assigned the Zamboni from the newly-shuttered arena to groom the outdoor ice that will be made at the new Logie Street Park, leaving concerned citizens wondering if there’s still time to save the arena.