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Three municipal units asked: Is an expansion of the Yarmouth Mariners Centre still a regional priority?


YARMOUTH, N.S. – The groundwork for a proposed Mariners Centre expansion that would create a new home here for the Yarmouth YMCA and the Yarmouth Curling Club has been completed, but those who have done the work are asking: Is this still a regional priority?

The question is being asked, in large part, due to the Town of Yarmouth’s decision to proceed with an arts and culture centre on Collins Street, which the town has identified as its number one priority.

At a January 2016 joint council meeting of the Town of Yarmouth, the Municipality of Yarmouth and the Municipality of Argyle, the three municipal units outlined what they saw as regional priorities. In order from first to third they were the Yarmouth airport, a new ferry terminal and an expansion of the Mariners Centre. But even though identified as regional priorities, none of the projects were immediate. A Mariners Centre expansion, for instance, was still seen as years down the road.

Still, work has been undertaken. Over the past three years the Mariners Centre, along with the Yarmouth YMCA and Yarmouth Curling Club, has completed a needs assessment and feasibility study regarding the possible consolidation of the facilities. The groups note this was done with the support of the three municipal councils and the province of Nova Scotia.

YMCA CURRENT STATE NOT SUSTAINABLE

Chris Brown, a member of the YMCA’s development committee, told the three councils at an Oct. 24 joint meeting that the YMCA and the curling club are in need of replacement. He noted the direction of Y Canada has been to consolidate new YMCA facilities with municipal ones, pointing to examples in the province where this has happened and you have ice arenas, a pool, a gymnasium, an indoor walking track, etc. all located at one complex.

The Y also believes this direction would grow its membership. A similar project in Pictou County more than doubled the YMCA membership there. The Yarmouth YMCA currently has around 1,100 members.

Speaking about the consequences of not moving ahead with new infrastructure, Brown said for the curling club and the YMCA it could “prove dire.”

“The YMCA infrastructure is in need of major repairs. The pool at the YMCA is old (50 years old) and does not come close to meeting the needs of the area,” he said.

The Mariners Centre expansion project has been pegged at $30 million – although it was stated there are areas for cost savings. But at $30 million the financial commitment is broken down to $10 million from the federal government, $10 million from the provincial government and $10 million that would be a combination of contributions from the three municipal units along with community fundraising.

SEEKING CONFIRMATION

But the question being asked now is will this project one day be proceeding? The YMCA, curling club and Mariners Centre are seeking confirmation.

“What are the timelines?” asked Yarmouth Town Councillor Clifford Hood at the Oct. 24 meeting. Brown said that is what they’re trying to find out.

“Are you asking us to jump you ahead of the project we’re working on?” Hood said, referring to the arts and culture centre.

Those speaking on the YMCA’s behalf said they’re not asking to move ahead of a project, although they are in a position to proceed with this project if that’s the call. But they need to know what to expect in the future. Do they continue on this path?

“We’re now at a point where we’ve done the legwork. We’ve surveyed the public. We’ve gone the feasibility study done. We’ve got the needs assessment done. We’ve got the design ready, so we’re ready to go,” said Matthew Trask, speaking for the YMCA and the expansion project. He said the project has been in the works since January 2014 but now it's been brought to a standstill given that the town, which had identified the expansion as a regional priority, has stated a downtown arts and culture centre is its top priority. It leaves them wondering where this project now falls.

“So we are looking for clarification,” Trask said.

None was provided during this meeting. The meeting of joint councils is not an official body and ultimately any decisions have to be made by the councils individually. But while no clarification, there was plenty of discussion.

Argyle Councillor Guy Surette said he is very supportive of a Mariners Centre expansion project, saying it would be a good economic driver for the area. He noted a proper size pool could host swim meets that would attract hundreds into the area per event. He said the units had all agreed, more than a year ago, for the expansion to be a regional priority. Speaking about the arts and culture centre project, he said with the opposing sides and public disagreement over the town’s project, it’s not something he wants to get in the middle of in terms of giving his support.

Yarmouth Municipal Councillor Trevor Cunningham said he is still supportive of the three regional priorities in the order the municipal units placed them in January 2016, which still places a Mariners Centre expansion third on the list. About a Mariners Centre expansion he said, “I think we should move forward with it, support the fundraising and lobby the two other levels of government to support it as well.”

Yarmouth Municipal Deputy Warden John Cunningham expressed concern over operating costs saying while he likes to see the municipality funding capital projects, he doesn’t want to see it funding operating costs or deficit.

In financing capital projects, Argyle Warden Richard Donaldson said he assumed federal funding comes from different departments and questioned whether large-scale projects in one area would be competing for the same dollars? He wasn't sure.

During the meeting there was talk by some around the table about sticking to set priorities, while there was acknowledgement by others that priorities do change given needs and circumstances.

Members of town council noted an arts and culture centre in the downtown is not a new priority for it, saying its been on the books for years.

About incorporating a curling rink into a Mariners Centre expansion, Yarmouth Deputy Mayor Phil Mooney said he would need to see a business plan since the facility, which would cost millions to build, would only be used as a curling rink for six or seven months of the year. Mariners Centre general manager Gil Dares says the rest of the time it could be used as a multi-purpose space but Mooney wants specifics.

“We do not have a bottomless pit of money,” Mooney said about tax dollars, saying councils have to pick and choose what their priorities are since there isn't money to go to everyone. “This is not a free for all.”

Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood said she agrees both components are needed for the community – sports and recreation and also arts and culture. She said maybe money could go into the existing curling rink to increase its lifespan. And she said maybe funding could be used to help build a new pool at the current YMCA location, given that a new pool is a definite need.

She also said an arts and culture centre is not a ‘want’, it’s a need. “We have sporting groups that to a very large degree are looked after. We have a huge arts and culture community, they don’t have anywhere to go. They’re not landing anywhere,” she said, adding she also thinks about youth who aren't involved in sports and who also need a place to turn to.

Meanwhile, those who have been working on the Mariners Centre expansion project seemed to leave this meeting with more confusion than clarity.

“You guys are the ones that made this a priority,” Trask said to the three municipal units. “We put the work in it, now we’re being told it’s not a priority for the town of Yarmouth. So how can you reconcile that? That's what we’re struggling with. We need some clear direction on where this is going because this was agreed on by the three councils. It’s not a matter of putting one project ahead of the other, you guys made the decision. We put the work in. The work is done.”

It's expected all three councils will discuss this more at their respective tables, so that hopefully more answers, guidance and clarity can be forthcoming. 

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