Committee formed to discuss future of Border Arena

Sari Green/Courier The Border Arena in St. Stephen has sat empty (with the exception of town equipment being stored inside) since 2014. A new committee has been formed to come up with ideas on how to best utilize this property. Some of the ideas presented include keeping it as a recreational facility, bringing in new businesses, a homeless shelter, and low-rent housing.

ST. STEPHEN – According to a recreation study done by the Southwest New Brunswick Service Commission, there are several unused recreation facilities in Charlotte County which could be put to better use before the buildings rot and decay. That is just what one particular group in St. Stephen is looking to do for the Border Arena. This arena has been unused since the Garcelon Civic Center was constructed in 2013, and currently, there are no plans for the long-term future of the facility, with the exception of the skateboard park located in the parking lot.

Luckily, there are many residents who would like to see the building used for recreation once again, and a committee has been created to brainstorm how to utilize this once popular arena and turn it back into a centre for recreation for the community. Kev Sumner, director of community services for the Town of St. Stephen, said the committee is looking at what the community would like to see done with the building and the lot it sits on, and they are looking at all ideas presented to them.

The committee is made up of two members of the public and two councillors, and the mayor will also be involved in some capacity. Sumner called the committee a “fact-finding mission”, with the purpose of not only looking at all ideas, but also keeping things realistic.

“We tried to establish what the community would like to see,” said Sumner. “We’ve got space that the Border Arena currently sits on. There is a lot of interest. It hasn’t been used in seven years. There is a lot of equipment in the arena. There’s stuff in there that probably shouldn’t have been put in there anyway. It’s been an easy option to put town stuff in a big, old storage facility. Now, that’s something the town does require to keep our equipment safe and weatherproof. But, an old arena is not the best resource for that.”

According to the Southwest New Brunswick Service Commission recreation study, there are three main areas they are looking at when it comes to the feasibility of restoring old facilities or constructing new ones. One is the population decline, which has been happening steadily since 2001 and is expected to continue at an even higher rate in the future. When there are fewer people, there is less of a need for recreational programs.

Second is the aging population. Compared to the national population, New Brunswick’s population tends to be older, specifically in certain areas. But, aging residents do like to take part in many activities, and this is something that is being looked at. But, while they don’t have a huge need for gyms as they tend to favour inexpensive outdoor activities, many seniors do enjoy participating in team sports, such as a gentleman’s hockey league, and also enjoy many types of physical activities.

Finally, the study looked at the needs of the various facilities. It was found most residents aren’t overly concerned about existing facilities, and many are still in good condition. Unfortunately, this is not quite the case with the Border Arena, which will need renovations in order to bring it up to code.

Sumner said the committee has been approached with a couple of opportunities for business. He said there is much interest in the property, because it is in close proximity to the highway. This is just one of many ideas that have sprung from a Facebook post asking the community what they would like to see done with the property. Unfortunately, one of the biggest obstacles to any sort of renovation to the building is finances.

“Of course, with ideas, comes expense,” said Sumner. “To redevelop or renovate that arena to what it was would take a pretty penny.”

In 2016, a study was done regarding the property, which can be found on the Town of St. Stephen website. This was a feasibility study about transferring the town hall to the front section of the Border Arena. Of course, this all changed when it was decided town hall would be moved to the Garcelon Civic Center. The study showed there would be a great deal of expense involved, considering that the old arena building needs extensive restoration.

“The result of that study said ‘you’ll need $5 million’, and that was just to get it up to code,” said Sumner. “That was just the front section of the building. Big chunk of change. As you know, with the Town of St. Stephen, we have limited resources. We don’t have a huge bottomless pit of cash to pull from. These kinds of things will have to be brought up to the review committee.”

The building requires a new electrical system, as well as a fire suppression system. But, at the same time, there is still hope for the old building, and there are many parts of it in reasonably good condition.

“The concrete pad that the ice used to sit on is in good shape,” said Sumner. “The roof has a few little leaks, there is deterioration, some of the fixtures have fallen down.

“It’s safe to walk around in it, but it does need a lot of work to get it up to public building code. There’s work to be done, if that’s the way council wants to go.”

So, what kinds of ideas have been proposed to the committee? Sumner said members of the community submitted several, including a trampoline park, indoor field hockey, and climbing walls. In addition to recreation, other ideas included low-rent housing and a homeless shelter. Other people said they would like to see businesses on the property in order to create employment opportunities.

“Those are some of the ideas,” said Sumner. “People would like to see more industry to get the jobs, but you have to house people. We do have a rental issue here in town as well. Nothing is off the table. We do want to get ideas. This isn’t going to drag out for a year or two. We kind of want to ask questions and see what we can find. Hopefully by the fall we’ll have a chance to report back to own council.”