Last week Council went for a $39million spend to build a new Skyway Arena - Stolte chose fiscal prudence and voted no.

By Pepper Parr

August 8th, 2022

BURLINGTON, ON

This is a long article.  It focuses on one new arena but sets out how this council is going to spemd to provide the infrastructure it thinks the city needs.  See it as a cautionary tale.

Council met on Thursday to decide if they were going to go forward with the construction of a new Skyway arena in ward 5.

Referred to as the Skyway Arena – the structure in place now was taken out of commission WHEN because it no longer met the rules related to Freon.

The rink was small.

The city did a lot of planning on this project – it was to be carbon free, solar panels on the roof, two regular size ice pads, pickle ball courts, community rooms and a walking track.

The new Skyway arena will be to the north of the proposed 6 story Lakeside Plaza development. Not a word was said about the development plans during the decision to spend $37 million

Way back when Councillor Paul Sharman was first elected he tried, in vain at the time, to get in touch with the owner of the plaza that had seen better days. It took a couple of years but eventually there was a development proposal that included eight structures.

During that time the Burloaks Park was completed – it is one of the better parks in the city that is seldom crowed that way Spencer Smith Park is.

The community amenities will include pickle ball courts, meeting rooms and a Walking Track.

This is the background behind the decision to spend twice as much as was originally planned on the Skyway arena.

The decision was to a contract for the construction of the new arena to Norlon Builders London Limited for $37,021,769.55

Staff asked that Council

Approve the revised total budget of $39,433,100 with revised financing proposed.
Authorize the additional funding of $2,000,000 from Tax Supported Debt; $403,000 from the Corporate Accessibility Implementation Project and $4,710,100 from the infrastructure renewal reserve fund.

Significantly looking structure for an arena – walking track, community meeting rooms and pickle ball courts make it more of a community hub. Something badly needed in the community.

What makes the development awkward is that it is a 1.4 km and a quarter away from the Bateman high school site that the city is in the process of buying – the public will not know much about the cost until sometime in September when the deal is expected to close.

The figure of $500 million was mentioned by Councillor Stolte, who was sanctioned by the Integrity Commissioner for revealing information that was discussed in a closed session of Council. The figure Stolte made public was, as she explained it, an approximation.

The Bateman and the Skyway arena are all about creating more in the way of space for a growth in population that will add three new communities to the city around the GO stations.

The Bateman and the Skyway development are in the south east sector

Lisa Kearns Councillor for ward 2 asked a procurement question, wanting to know how far into the process was the tender?

Staff had already decided who should be getting the job – all they needed was approval from Council to go forward.

Jennifer Johnson on the left, listening to a resident when public feedback was being gathered about the residential plans.

Jennifer Johnson, the staff member who oversaw the redevelopment of the WHICH ONE explained that three compliant bids and were ready to give the contract to Nolan for $37 million plus.

Given that Councillors are in the middle of an election Kearns wanted to be seen as being on top of everything said: “I’m looking to understand or hear what within the bid tender document and or agreed upon by those compliant bids would potentially help the city in a situation where the vendors work fell short or compliance with specs was not met. Those types of things. I want to understand what our insurance plans are, so to speak, so that we can be very much guaranteed that we have the best quality for our you know, the best quality when this work gets undertaken?

Johnson explained that “through our pre-qualification, we went through two rounds for general contractors where we asked them to qualify, electrical, mechanical and landscape because those were a very big component of the project. So they actually had to name the consultants they were using and had to close the bid with them. So through the pre-qualification process, we knew who those trades were, they were local trades, good trades. And basically, we pre-qualified five general contractors prior to even releasing the tender documents.

Solar panels on the roof will cover a lot of the electricity costs?

“Our specifications were very tight, because we tried our best to include designs that were all locally sourced. We also went through a review process with the consultants to ensure that all the equipment that we included in the design and specifications were still able to be sourced without you know, extended lead times. Contractors, are obligated to fulfill their contract under that lump sum.

The Skyway arena is in ward 5, Sharman territory. He said: Just slightly more than half of this cost is more than the city expected, but this is not a unique situation- that’s happening to everything. The question raised from time to time is should we wait for things to get better? The Staff report concludes that it’s going to be at least five years before the current pressure on costs decreases.This is not going to get better. If we don’t do it now.

It’ll just get worse and where does that leave us? It raises all sorts of concerns about improving the infrastructure in the city and increasing the infrastructure in the city. And we’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. But for now, I believe that we’re doing something that is badly needed by the city. We need the ice pads and the community rooms and the walking track.

Bateman won’t solve the ice pad problem, it won’t provide the walking track for the seniors who live in the immediate arena. And the pressure to build the pickle ball courts. So we’re going to be there. This is a wonderful addition to our recreation facilities in Burlington. Much needed, much appreciated. And we can just hope that cost isn’t going to be with us as a problem for ever.

Ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stolte took a much different position. “I’ve certainly brought up concerns before about the commitment to projects located 1.4 kilometers away from each other. We’ve made a huge commitment to debate and project and I just feel very uncomfortable with as Councillor Sherman has brought up the increasing cost of this which I know is realistic. I know that costs are going up across the country. We’re all aware of that. But the reality is too is that by utilizing the limited funds that we have available to us and the limited room that we have in our debt capacity limit, we’re committing most of our eggs into two baskets that are in the southeast corner of Burlington and I’m just not convinced that that’s an appropriate decision for us to be making at this time.

That walking track and a community rooms would be nice. I think that we could scale this project back to ensure that we have the ice rinks and I think that we could make sure that we have transportation options available to seniors to get them up to the proposed community rooms that we hope to have at the maintenance project. And that would leave us some funding available to ensure that we are able to take care of other infrastructure projects and that we have other opportunities to use our debt capacity limit because there certainly are a lot of a lot of other projects around the city that need attention. I wasn’t in support of this before. I’m still not. I know that it would be a great project if money were no object, but money is an object and I won’t be able to support this today.

Ward 3 Councillor Rory Nisan said: “This is a higher price than we anticipated. No doubt about it. We’ve made the Skyway a priority for a long time. I believe we can still pursue upper level government funding and I’m sure we will but we can’t just bring everything to a standstill.

Ward 1 Councilor Kelvin Galbraith said: “I’m in support of this. I am part of the ice user group that knows there is a big need for another ice rink. It’s the ice users have been hurt for the last couple of years now that Skyway has been taken out of the inventory and replacing it with a full size rink is very important and will be very valuable to the ice user groups.

“I think the city needs more of these type of facilities and the longer we wait, the more expensive it will get. I think the time is now and I’m prepared to support this today.

Lisa Kearns put her financial concern, chase down the details spin on the building of a new arena.

Lisa Kearns joined what was now a majority of Council and said: “I think the whole conversation we’re having here is really reflective of the petulance that I’m starting to see around some of these really, really big ticket items. We know that we’ve already committed to prioritizing Skyway community centre and it feels a lot like this is one of those projects that we’re so far into that is difficult to turn around in, in response to escalating prices. Now, in my view, there are two things to look at here. One is of course the community value which we can’t put a price tag on it’s clear we do need more ice rinks. And in fact, we need the type of ice rinks that can host and hold tournaments and things of that nature so that we can really capitalize on those additional tourism dollars especially in light of having our municipal accommodation tax now ushered in so we do need to look at this really big picture.

“It’s one thing to award a tender. It’s another thing to award a tender with really strong terms that despite escalating costs still puts the city in the driver’s seat around ensuring the diligence used around those funds. Those are many types of causes like clawback clauses, there’s the dispute resolution, there’s payment terms certainty of terms limitations of liability. I want to be really really sure that when we are embarking on projects this high visibility and this high of a price tag we have covered all our bases.

The table below shows the change to the Total Project Cost over the last three years. The lowest compliant bid has resulted in an increased construction cost to $36.7 million, including soft costs, and project contingency, the new total project cost is estimated at $39.4 million (including the parks revitalization component). This is an increase of 22% from the Class A, most recently completed in March 2022 or $7.1 million.

It’s really important that we don’t have bumps along the way from today’s meeting where we’re proving this to when we can actually open the doors and welcome our residents across the city into a facility like this. I do want to also put on record and echo the comments of Councillor salty in that I am worried about our debt limit and our debt threshold. We still have a really big ticket in very similar proximity that hasn’t even had its capital costs disclose to the public yet. And that will no doubt require some support from our tax base and of course from our infrastructure renewal reserve fund so that fun will quickly be dwindling and it’s I’m hopeful that they’ll be a lot left for some of the other areas where we are really putting a focus on growth.

I am supporting this today with caution. And you know putting everyone involved in this in this project on notice that we want it to be an absolute and true success and we want it to be handled with the greatest level of diligence as possible.

The project was short 7 million – they dug into reserves and pushed $2 million onto the backs of the taxpayers – by taking out a 15 years debenture at 4.5%. Don’t you wish you could get that interest from your bank

Councillor Sharman added later in the meeting before the vote saying he recognized that his comments about money were made the way they were said because I think that it’s just a fact of life that cost is increasing. The arena had to be closed because the Freon system became illegal. Otherwise, we would have continued to have Skyway arena open, but it was grossly inadequate. It was built in the 60s. It was no longer up to standard in terms of installation and efficiency and effectiveness and it was undersized so it needed to go. So it’s going to be built. I think that’s one point with respect to money or No, I have a fairly reasonable understanding of money and my view of the world is very oriented towards future cash flow and where it’s coming from.

Paul Sharman: “I have no concerns about money.”

“I have no concerns about money, it will be resolved and especially in Parkland dedication, even if I do think it’s a bit rich it’s going to pay for a lot of stuff. We will still be building within the urban boundary. We will have the cash to pay for the facilities we need for another 70,000 people in the course of the next 30 years. And if anybody’s thinking differently than I ask you to talk to me, because planning and cash flow forecasting is an important way of thinking and I have no concerns about the money. And that’s about it for me. I’m delighted that we’re getting on with this.

Mayor Meed Ward decided it was her turn to take a kick at the can. “I am really looking forward to the ground-breaking in October. We know that we need more community facilities for our growing population period full stop – we are at capacity, we are bursting at the seams. This will be a facility that is used and loved by people from across Burlington the ice pads the community meeting space the parkour out front and also it will be really the future of how we build community facilities in Burlington. It will have solar panels on the roof. It will be a low carbon building, that is the future and we are not done yet. Our community amenities our parks or community centers have not kept up with the growth that we have seen in population in Burlington – this is one more opportunity to not only refresh what was there before, but expand it. The Walking Track is was really important.

It’s not so much about what we spend, it’s what we spend on and this there’s no question in my mind that this has been a priority. And so we just need to get on with it. We need to because the price isn’t gonna get any cheaper. And the cost escalation that we have seen is due to factors that are outside of the city’s control for sure and there’s no time like the present to get going.

This will put us at 11% debt ratio, our city imposed ratio is 12 and a half so we’re still well below that. The province imposes a debt ratio of 25%. Tax supported debt is only one of many sources of funding. We have reserved funds – revenue from users that will come back to us. I know the pickle ball courts will be very well used and played.

We have just increased and really level set the development charges that we will be charging for new growth and our Parkland dedication fees we were way behind, leaving money substantial amounts of money on the table.

I’m enthusiastic about finally getting on with this centre and we will mean we need more we’re not done we are not done yet with parks and community centres. Because we still have a lot more growth coming and we still have some catching up to do. And we have the money. We have the money to do it.

We do need a recorded vote on this. So I will turn it over to our clerk to take the recorded vote.

Councillor Bentivegna had some interesting questions and concerns about what was going to happen to the taxpayer.  His views will be covered in a seperate article later in the week.

Councillor stuck to her guns; the only Council member to talk about fiscal prudence.

City Manager Tim Commisso sat in on the meeting – didn’t say a word

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8 comments to Last week Council went for a $39million spend to build a new Skyway Arena – Stolte chose fiscal prudence and voted no.

  • John

    Dave,

    Do you really think the many residents living in ward 1 and 2 are going to use these ward 5 facilities?

    Our friends, who we mentioned in ward 1, do not drive and certainly are not prepared to take buses to reach the Skyway Arena.

    Our home backs on Bateman H.S. and you can count on one hand the number of residents who use the walking track during the week. I doubt a walking track inside Skyway will be used much more.

    Sorry, I do not agree with your arguments. In my opinion, any increase in our taxes, should be spent on more affordable housing for the younger generation or we will soon become the retirement community by the lake.

  • Marie

    Interesting that Dave Turner’s response to “we need good transit” is that taxes must go up to maintain and/or upgrade our city services. I noticed the same response in another comment that mentioned transit appended to another article (about sponsored neighbourhood get-togethers) from Mary Hill.

    https://burlingtongazette.ca/that-neighbourhood-party-meed-ward-and-bentivegna-attended-the-rules-were-clear-no-alcohol/

    Apparently better transit makes some folks think about the cost. But tax increases aren’t a concern for a new community arena?

    Maybe if our current tax dollars were responsibly spent on the services we need rather than the latest exciting project then tax increases might be curbed.

    We DO need better transit. Our streets are jammed with way too many cars. All I see from city council year after year is that someone is looking at the issue. Someone has been hired. Someone is studying things. Good lord, all it would take is to try to rely on the bus system day-to-day to figure out the problem.

    And yes, there would be a property tax increase for better transit. As there will be for this new arena.

    Of course, I won’t be able to use this arena, because our crappy transit won’t get me there.

  • Jay Cooper

    Dave Turner said “But no matter the infrastructure or service in question, each requires money. It’s time to wake up and live in the real world and accept if one wants the infrastructure &/or services one has to pay for it. That means property tax dollars must increase”

    Of course tax dollars will need to increase. But that doesn’t excuse throwing around tax dollars for neighbourhood street parties and pretty new arenas when our existing infrastructure and amenities are crumbling.

    I’d feel a lot more positive about this project if there had been announcements about the investment of time and attention paid to our bus system and traffic flows. Traffic is the biggest problem in Burlington. Public transit is the environmentally prudent response to the problem. Transit would allow Burlington residents to get around to the amenities we already have as well as the shiny new projects that council wants to build. Strong transit would transform this city!!

    Also, we are not “one Burlington”. It’s pretty clear where the favourite residents are located.

  • Doug Ross

    The existing arena was built in the 1970s. Get your facts straight.
    Editor’s note: Our data came from a city staff report.

  • Jay Cooper

    “[W]e are bursting at the seams.” Yes, MMW, yes we are. So why are we spending money on a new centre when our existing amenities are so inadequate for our expanding population?

    I’d so much rather see the $$$ spent to fix transit and clean up our crowded messy roads. Our existing services are suffering due to over population and poor planning and neglect!

    Imagine if we had *reliable* and affordable commuter transit to move our residents around the city and to GO trains? Imagine if a chunk of the ever-growing traffic could simply be REMOVED from our roads?

    Fewer cars would naturally result in better pedestrian spaces and room for cyclists. Win/win.

    Our community would change drastically for the better!

    But instead we’re spending money so that little boys can play hockey?!? I don’t get it. It’s just another instance of MMW focusing on her small group of buddies to the neglect of the rest of the city. That’s our current council’s culture: Ignore the glaring problems that affect us every day in order to focus on something shiny and new!

  • john

    Even though we live in ward 5, I am surprised that more council members did not question the spending that is taking place in this ward. It will likely be close to one hundred million, when the Skyway Arena and Bateman H.S .projects are completed. Is the money really there, as the mayor claims or is this wishful thinking on her part?

    We have friends in ward 1, who are saying ‘what about us?’

  • Hans Jacobs

    This is not about fiscal prudence at all – it’s about Vision. Fortunately the people who decided to build the RBG and other important public assets had Vision or they would not have been built either. I agree with Mr. Sharman.

    • Dave Turner

      John

      So we put ut ir sonething else in Ward 1 instead. Then Ward 2 or 4 or whatever says what about us. It may be located in Ward 5, but that does not prevent residents from other wards using it. Burlington may have 6 wards, but we are one Burlington !

      Jay Cooper, yes, we all agree we are bursting at the seems. So infrastructure of all types must be built, and services funded. Infrastructure including roads, arenas etc, and services like weed eradication at medians, bus stops.

      But no matter the infrastructure or service in question, each requires money. It’s time to wake up and live in the real world and accept if one wants the infrastructure &/or services one has to pay for it. That means property tax dollars must increase.

      If we do not invest in infrastructure we will end up in the same position as Toronto which is now has to retrofit transit and other services to developed areas. Services that should have been installed when developments were built.