Public discussion about the fate of the Stellarton Memorial Rink is heating up — particularly through social media.
During the open forum portion of the regular Stellarton Town Council meeting last week, Darren Stroud spoke on behalf of the Stellarton Memorial Rink – Citizens Group in an effort to “promote productive dialogue.”
The findings of the citizens group were shared with the council, clerk and town engineer on Jan. 13, and were also shared through what Stroud called “well broadcast, public meetings available to all with the intention of simply delivering the group’s stated objectives.”
Stroud said, “There is a public conversation underway concerning the Stellarton Memorial Rink — and that’s a good thing. It’s a sign of a vibrant and interested community.”
Last year when the citizens group began, Stroud said, a social media campaign garnered more than 1,200 signatures supporting the group’s objective which is “to discover and more closely understand the issues facing the facility” and to determine if there is a “feasible path forward.”
His concern, he explained, is that some citizens have reached out to their respective town councillor and have received what Stroud called “disconnected responses from at least two representatives of the town with a seeming disregard for information being shared by the citizens group.”
Stroud said, “The optics of this messaging from town representatives … suggests either a misunderstanding or a disbelief of the group’s findings.”
He feels the town and staff are in a unique situation in that the citizens group has volunteered collectively hundreds of hours to assist the town for the benefit of the citizens. “There appears to be at best, a level of disinterest, or at worst, a level of passive aggression … to undermine the group as if it’s an adversary to the town or any members of the council.
“That’s so far from the truth, the spirit of this group or its efforts.”
If the efforts of this group are embraced, Stroud said the decision could be rewarding.
The $4.1 million cost estimate — based on the SNC Lavalin aging building audit from which the decision to close the rink was based last year — to bring the rink back up to code, has been reduced to a $1.2 million proposal by the citizens group, of which $665,000 would cover immediate issues.
“The proposal is supported by the same building audit report that the town has procured, plus local expert advice, cost quotations as well as much community interest. Again, this is a good thing for informed dialogue.”
Stroud noted there is no additional dollars in debt being proposed; rather, it contains measured and controlled steps forward.
“I’m asking, what are we missing here? Is there a disagreement with the information? Has there been new information introduced to the town that the group has not been privy to? Let’s talk about it,” Stroud offered.
Since the citizens group presented its findings at two public meetings recently, Stroud said that 50 citizens of the town have signed up to volunteer their efforts and time should the town decide to keep the rink building standing.
“The decision is ultimately yours,” he told council before he offered to help promote a productive dialogue and ensure availability to address concerns with information from his group.
Another Stellarton resident, Patty Lloyd, said the meeting of the citizens group she attended at the G.R. Saunders Elementary School was “intimidating.” Because of this, she did not ask any questions of the citizens group nor did she attend a second meeting held the following week at the fire hall.
John MacLeod, a lifelong Stellarton resident and volunteer, spoke in support of the citizens group. He acknowledged the town has supported the group in its efforts to have access to the rink, but he feels the town’s support ends there.
“You’ve said if we could raise $4 million then we could move ahead. But most people know that if you don’t have real support of the town you’re not going anywhere, you’re not going to get the support of governments or from people who want to donate money.”
MacLeod said he sees no reason why Stellarton can’t repeat the success of Glace Bay: the rink there was closed for three and a half years and during the closure the community received government funding and fundraised to get enough money to re-open the rink. “I don’t think there’s any reason why we couldn’t do that here also.”
The Stellarton Memorial Rink – Citizens Group will make a final presentation to the Committee of the Whole meeting on February 24.