Originally proposed as an ice arena only, expansion of amenities and services have increased costs and delayed the opening. (Facebook Photo)

Upper Skeena Rec Centre’s opening delayed

More money needed as vision expands beyond original plan

The Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine board has authorized staff to proceed with creating a Capital Reserve Fund for the Upper Skeena Recreation Centre in Hazelton.

The opening of the centre has been delayed from this summer as more money is required to proceed with construction.

Originally proposed as an ice arena only, expansion of amenities and services increased the capital and projected operating costs.

The current estimated cost is $21.4 million, which includes construction, commissioning and startup. The original cost was approximately $16 million. The increase is a result of expanding the facilities offered at the arena.

“It’s now gone from being an ice arena to [also] a gymnasium fitness facility and a meeting room, so it’s now a leisure centre… [it’s a] big difference, that was never imagined in the beginning,” says Ron Poole, chief administrative officer at the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine (RDKS). “People start with an idea and as it starts to move along, people get more and more involved and they get bigger ideas.”

The new Northern Capital and Planning Grant program is an option to fill the money gap, but a Capital Reserve Fund is required to be set up first in order to be eligible.

READ MORE: Upper Skeena Rec Centre could be biomass heated

Poole adds the operating costs such as heating and lighting were a lot higher than they expected, especially during their three-month trial testing the ice rink.

“[We will also be] paying for the heat, light, electrical, gas, and all those bills are ongoing for life. That’s where the challenges come in, because we’re now trying to pay to operate a much bigger facility,” says Poole. “We’re hoping to get into an 18-month operating agreement, and continue to move down there so that this becomes more sustainable.”

In Oct. 2017, the Owners Partnership Committee for the Upper Skeena Recreation Centre, with officials from the province, held their official groundbreaking ceremony. The RDKS was a key collaborator in working with the committee to help make the centre happen, along with donations and grants from local First Nations.

READ MORE: Kitselas First Nation moves ahead with development plans

Poole says the Upper Skeena Recreation Centre is an important investment into the community, as it’s more than just a place to do sports — it’s a gathering and meeting spot for residents in the area. Previously, there was an old arena that stood in its place but the decaying structure had to be torn down for safety reasons.

“The old arena was really the heart of the Hazletons… they don’t have the services that Terrace or Smithers has,” says Poole.

“You can see this place is where people are going to eat [in the cafeteria], and whether you play hockey, or basketball or work out, just being in the facility [is important to them] and seeing the people in the community… I think people are really looking forward to it again.”

An official opening date has yet to be announced, but Poole says they are working to hopefully open their doors this fall.



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