It's been 31 months since the provincial government announced it would fund 80 per cent of the cost of a new arena for the Town of Harbour Grace.
But unlike similar projects sanctioned at the same time for the towns of Conception Bay South and Paradise, shovels are yet to dig into the ground in the Conception Bay North town.
In fact, the Harbour Grace project has been dogged by controversy about everything from regional co-operation and site selection to whether or not the community can even afford to operate a modern new rink.
When the funding was announced in late August 2011, it was anticipated that all three arenas would open by the end of this year, but it appears Paradise may be the only project to achieve that goal, since work on the facility is well underway.
In Conception Bay South, work on the concrete footing has begun, and a town official stated that — barring any unforseen circumstances — the 1,250-seat arena would be ready for use at the beginning of the 2015 skating season. Weather has been slowing construction this winter, the official explained.
The latest development in Harbour Grace came to light late last week, when Mayor Terry Barnes confirmed the project has been downsized.
For many months, town leaders had been advocating for a two-ice surface facility. However, Barnes said a recent third-party financial assessment confirmed such a facility would be too costly for the town of some 3,000 residents, which will be responsible for 20 per cent of construction costs, and operations once completed.
"We can’t afford to keep two surfaces operating," Barnes stated.
Barnes said annual operating costs for two ice surfaces would exceed $400,000, while the cost to operate a single surface is estimated at $152,000.
"We'd probably only be renting the ice about an extra 20 per cent," Barnes said of the second ice surface.
“How can you put the town in jeopardy by interfering with other infrastructure needs in the town,” he added. "People are understanding of that."
“We looked at the numbers carefully, and the fiscal responsibility is too great for the town to take on without having to raise taxes."
Town officials believe the arena will be self-sustaining from a financial standpoint.
Barnes said the town has provided this information to the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs, and is now waiting for final approval to move forward with the project.
The mayor is hopeful that site work can begin this spring, and the facility can be ready for use in late 2015.
"We're ready to go," Barnes stated.
The new facility is expected to be constructed along Jamie's Way, and will replace the venerable S. W. Moores Memorial Stadium, which has been serving the region for nearly six decades.
The cost of the new arena should be significantly less than the $21 million allotted, since the building has decreased considerably in size. But Barnes did not exclude the idea of a second surface being added down the road.
In fact, he confirmed the building will be wired for two surfaces, so when an extension can be built, the electrical and plumbing will be ready to go.