Residents interested in the progress being made on the new sportsplex in Windsor will want to tune into West Hants council’s next committee of the whole meeting.
Questions have been brought forward regarding the type of refrigerant to be used in the new facility — instead of the traditional ammonia, they’ve opted for the synthetic, energy-efficient Opteon, a product not currently used in Atlantic Canadian rinks — and how fast the contingency fund is being spent.
Earlier this month, Coun. Tanya Leopold presented council with two detailed reports outlining some research she did. She let the research speak for itself.
“I ran out of time to ask questions at a previous meeting,” said Leopold in an interview following the Nov. 12 council meeting as to why she presented the reports.
“I just took up some research so that I could answer my own questions,” she continued.
“When I found some answers, I thought it would be beneficial to share it with everybody.”
Leopold was one of two council members who sat on the initial design committee. She was the chairwoman and due to tight deadlines, she said she fully immersed herself in the project. When the committee came to an end, she remained interested in the project and ensuring that it was a successful venture.
“The reason why I needed to ask those questions and do that research is to ensure that we can justify to our residents, to our financial department, that it is the best course of action,” she said.
“I found it very hard after that last presentation to be able to justify spending those additional funds for that particular system with Opteon.”
Leopold’s two reports focused on the presentations made by Ian Storey, of I.B. Storey, and Murray Tate, of Tate Engineering, at the Sept. 24 committee of the whole meeting. During that presentation, council learned that the refrigerant of choice was XP10 (otherwise known as Opteon).
Opteon is said to be a cost-effective method of providing heating and cooling that has low global warming potential.
Leopold’s report noted that Opteon is new to the ice arena market and is still being refined for ice arena use. With that, comes the challenges of being among the first to use it.
She said while the product may be endorsed by the NHL, that’s merely a marketing tool. Additionally, there are no NHL rinks currently using the Opteon refrigerant.
“It in no way implies that the NHL has committed to using this refrigerant. All NHL teams have committed to being more environmentally sustainable; however, not necessarily through the use of Opteon,” she wrote.
During Storey’s presentation to council, he mentioned the dangers of using ammonia and mentioned the Fernie, B.C. arena fatalities as a current example. That didn’t sit well with Leopold.
“Ammonia is no more dangerous as any other refrigerant; proper safety and handling of any refrigerant is required. It is important to recognize that the use of ammonia was not solely the cause of the Fernie, B.C. arena fatalities. It was a series of human errors and/or safety infractions, which could occur with any refrigerant.”
The ammonia leak in Fernie in 2017, which resulted in the deaths of three men, was caused by the decision to operate the arena despite knowing there was a small hole in the ammonia-chilled heat exchanger pipe.
Further, Leopold called into question the energy savings predicted for the site.
Leopold told the Journal she has been asked why she is so invested in the new sportsplex. She said part of that passion comes from growing up in a rink.
Her father, Wayne Lunn, was an arena manager in Brooklyn for about 30 years. As a child, she spent countless hours there.
Another reason is because she has three children involved in ice-related activities — two hockey players and a figure skater. They spend an average of 18 hours in various rinks.
At the Nov. 12 meeting, Coun. Rupert Jannasch was the first to address her reports.
“I'd like to know why there was a presentation made to council about a costly cooling system with an uncertain reputation when it seemed like the decision to purchase this system had already been made,” he said.
Chief administrative officer Martin Laycock said staff was given the purview to proceed with that project.
“The whole notion was to come up with a plan for refrigerant, not just for the rink, but for the entire system, for the entire complex, that would reduce energy consumption from the base model that was proposed in the RFP by 40 per cent,” said Laycock, noting that the Opteon system is supposed to provide 43 per cent, which will qualify the municipality to receive a rebate from Efficiency Nova Scotia.
Laycock said when council awarded the RFP in April, it gave authority to staff to move forward with the project.
Jannasch said it’s been challenging justifying some of the arena expenditures to taxpayers without having more details.
“As a councillor, you feel sometimes very foolish to say, 'Well, a half-million-dollar decision has been made but really we had no input,’” he said. “I find that quite awkward in dealing with the public and I would just like a little more clarification, how a decision like the Opteon technology, how that was made.”
Laycock said he plans to have a presentation at council’s Nov. 26 committee of the whole meeting that should address the concerns being expressed.
Coun. Kathy Monroe said she left the September meeting thinking other rinks in the area were already using Opteon. That’s not the case.
“Hindsight is 20/20 and I recognize that that's what we agreed to but we were misled. Or at least I feel like I have been misled,” she said.
Warden Abraham Zebian interjected, saying, “Staff are very professional; project engineers were hired. They're very professional. The word misled is, I guess, misleading.”
Monroe said she knows she’s not the only one who felt that way.
“How were we led down the road to believe that this was just one of several sites that has been using Opteon? It's disturbing that we're at that spot right now,” Monroe said. “Do we have any recourse at this point with I.B. Storey? Do we have any recourse on the ordering of this at this point? Is that a done deal?”
Laycock said anything could be stopped — for a price.
“At the risk of going severely over budget, you could stop anything but it would have serious ramifications to the project. So, the water is over the dam I would say if you want to keep this project within the approved dates,” he said, noting any changes now would further delay the project.
Coun. David Keith, who was also on the design committee, said in the past eight years, there’s been more than a dozen similar facilities constructed in Atlantic Canada and none of them are using Opteon.
“How could we be right and all these arenas, brand new, be wrong?” asked Keith, noting some of the facilities have multiple uses, like what West Hants is constructing.
Coun. Jennifer Daniels, however, said she didn’t share the same concerns as fellow councillors and commended staff for their work on the project.
“A lot of these questions at the table today have been answered in a presentation. Staff have gone over and above. They've fulfilled council's request. As our CAO has stated, they brought the experts in and I don't feel that we should be questioning them,” said Daniels.
The West Hants sportsplex’s budget is $14.6 million, with a seven per cent contingency, which is valued at about $1.02 million.
In September, council learned that a fair amount of that contingency fund was spent.
Due to a delay in awarding the contract, contingency funds were required to meet deadlines.
Council was told that if the project wasn’t accelerated, then the building would be ready for the end of November instead of Sept. 1, 2020.
In Leopold’s report, she questioned why they needed ice in September as traditionally, the Hants Exhibition Arena — the Town of Windsor’s existing rink that will be replaced by this project — doesn’t have ice until mid-October.
“This is particularly important to note because I feel that in order to save contingency funds for true contingency reasons we could, in turn, save this municipality and its citizens a considerable amount of money.”
Additionally, there was a change in the building design. Masonry block was originally intended for the internal construction. However, it was not considered to be ideal material to work with during winter conditions. They opted to use structural steel.
Due to the delayed construction start, there would be extra heating costs to contend with as more of the work will be performed during the wintertime.
During the September meeting, it was also identified that $440,000 of the contingency fund was earmarked for the HVAC and refrigeration upgrade.
In Leopold’s report to council, she questioned how spending contingency funds to upgrade to Opteon would fall under a contingency fund expense.
She hoped council would consider her report and in closing, wrote: “regardless of who is authorized to make such decisions on expenditures, I feel it is the duty of council to provide oversight on this project's budget.”
A presentation addressing the concerns that were expressed about the project is anticipated to be held at 6 p.m. Nov. 26 in West Hants council chambers. Members of the public are allowed to speak on topics at the conclusion of committee of the whole meetings. The meetings are often live streamed on Facebook, however, questions and concerns posed via that method are not addressed at the meeting.
Did you know?
- The West Hants sportsplex will feature an NHL-sized ice surface with seating for about 550 fans, an indoor sports field (for such use as soccer, lacrosse, rugby) and a walking track. Local hockey memorabilia will also be on display in the new facility.
- The project carries a price tag of $14.6 million plus a seven per cent contingency fund. The federal and provincial governments are providing the lion’s share of funding — about $9 million — and the Town of Windsor committed $1 million over five years, The Municipality of West Hants also pledged $1 million and have also launched a fundraising campaign to help offset the additional costs. The municipality will have to incur all additional costs.