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A Staff Report from the Director of Community Services Jayne Jagelewski opened up a lengthy debate at the August 26 Committee of Whole meeting in Port Elgin. The recommendation was made to council that the staff move forward with a business plan and funding application with the Plex listed as the preferred location, creating a central Community Complex.

Staff is predicting a “Community, Culture and Recreation” stream of funding in the coming weeks from Infrastructure Canada as part of their Investing in Canada plan. In their report to council, staff cautioned there may only be one intake for this funding.

Jagelewski said the Plex had been identified as the preferred location in three previous professional consulting plans. At a functional level, the studies have revealed this site to have the lowest development cost, offer potential savings from the reuse of the waste heat from the arena, and have the lowest operational and maintenance cost.

The physical benefits of this site include the use of existing infrastructure and a location along the recreational trail to encourage active transportation.

“The approval of the recommendation permits staff to take the next steps for a site-specific masterplan,” explained the Director. “A plan such as this will paint many perimeters. It could certainly look at size of the facility, it could look at the need for a second arena and it could could certainly look at the existing municipal space as a few examples," Jagelewski reported.

“Selecting a site is critical in moving this project forward,” stated Jagelewski, adding that the Investing in Canada Infrastructure program will be launched September 3.

"Ensuring Saugeen Shores’ application is complete is crucial, identifying a preferred location for a new facility, as well as a solid business plan and potential partners is the anchor to having a firm proposal ready for funding sources,” Jagelewski said.

Jagelewski warned council of the narrow application window scheduled to end in mid November. The Director also ensured council that the confirmation of the preferred location does not commit them to a YMCA facility.

Deputy Mayor Don Matheson expressed his disappointment in the current rush to solidify a plan when council and staff were aware of the imminent funding two years ago. The Deputy Mayor argued that the projected twinning of the Plex arenas as “many years out, likely decades” as stated in the report, to be an understatement.

“We have a boom happening in Saugeen Shores. We are an anomaly in the province. Our schools are over capacity which means there are more children participating in sports than any study could have predicted,” declared Matheson. “In fact for this year’s minor hockey registration, there’s a waiting list for players to register in the Novice, Atom, PeeWee and Bantam teams... we will need a second ice pad attached to the Plex, sooner than expected,” Matheson concluded.

Vice Deputy Mayor Mike Myatt echoed many of Matheson’s arguments against the recommendation and added his frustration with not yet seeing a business plan for the YMCA and not knowing the size of the facility.

“I can’t tonight support the Plex site as the preferred site without seeing the Y business plan,” said Myatt. “I can’t... approve a site when we really don’t know what we’re building.”

Councillor Jami Smith reminded council of their duty as elected officials. “We were put here to make decisions on behalf of the people that we are here to represent," said Smith, who went on to describe the meetings she attended with fellow councillors with the Ministry of Infrastructure.

“What I heard is that it is indeed an attribute to the success of the application that we would have a site selected,” stated Smith, “but it is not indicative that it would be the only possibility and that it is within our reach of this application to submit with a solid business plan and as the Vice Deputy Mayor has stated is something that we simply haven’t seen and we are eager, willing and anxious to work with staff to find an appropriate business plan and an appropriate business model that will work for the members of this community.”

Councillor John Rich posed the question of whether deferring this recommendation to attempt to answer questions would still leave enough time to complete the application, at which point CAO David Smith spoke on behalf of the staff.

“What we’re being asked to do is near impossible. It’s to deliver a business plan with a potential, but maybe not partner, at a site or maybe not site," said the CAO. "There’s 15 variables that we’re being asked to develop in a short period of time,” claimed Smith.

The CAO went on to request that council try to narrow down the playing field to help form a more effective business model. “It would be beneficial if council could give us a clear direction in particular with the Y partnership” Smith said. “And if the Plex is not a location that you’re interested in, because I believe it was our preferred location, and we’ll start over, looking at something else.”

In the end, Matheson put forth a motion to defer the recommendation to give staff enough time to tackle the unanswered questions. In the motion, Matheson identified the following concerns to be resolved before the Plex can be voted on as the preferred location.

Will we have the Y business plan in time to make this decision? Can a parking lot be placed on the south end of the Plex property or will the parking interfere with wells located at this location? Will construction at this location interfere with ground source heating pipes that are buried at this location and beneath the police building and does the NII have plans to install an alternative heat source? Looking at the square footage of the Owen Sound Y, do we have enough space to locate a facility in this space? If municipal offices need to expand in the future, where will they expand to? What will happen with the municipal parking lot on the east side? Where will staff park? If a second ice pad is needed at the Plex, where will it be located? Where will the emergency generator be located? Have the local businesses that will be affected by this proposed development been contacted to discuss what is happening and possible options?

Saugeen Shores Mayor Luke Charbonneau emphasized that extensive time and work has been spent on this project and expressed concern that any alternate location is going to introduce another set of questions. “It frustrates me that we received a whole bunch of expert advice over an extended period of time up to and including tonight from our own staff and we can’t just decide,” he said. “And we can defer until the 15th of October, but let’s come on the 15th of October and let’s decide," said Charbonneau.