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Commentary: Dalhousie makes hasty decision to demolish Memorial Arena

University only realized residence would cause removal of arena six weeks ago

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By the way, we're going to be losing Memorial Arena.

Sitting in on Dalhousie University's Board of Governors meeting last Tuesday, this was the basic message delivered by Jeff Lamb, head of Dalhousie Facilities Management.

Dal students found out Wednesday they'd be without an arena for four years. Snow drifting and foundation abutments caused by the new residence were the reasons, as if that made any difference to them. Some students were understandably irate.

One comment on Dalhousie's website under the news release:

"The article says there was lots of consultation with current students and student groups. I don't recall this EVER being advertised, or me having any chance for input. I knew the houses were being demolished for a new residence, but tearing down the arena, which happens to be my workplace currently, seems to have been approved so easily."

He's right. It was approved easily. Only one board member voted against the motion.

The other buildings are not confirmed

The message from the university and student representatives has been "short term pain for long term gain." It's a good line, and according to them, concerned students have become more receptive, but is it reality?

The only building approved by the board so far is the new mixed-use facility - a seven-storey student residence - on LeMarchant Street. The new fitness centre and a new multi-use arena are just concepts right now, according to Ken Burt, head of Finance and Administration.

"The concept is that we have a box there that will be about 71,000 sq. ft. for fitness and recreational activities and then we fill that box," he said.

Well they have an idea. That's a start.

A boon to athlete recruitement

For the sake of argument, let's take Dalhousie's word for at face value and believe the university will have its new fitness centre in two years and a new arena in four years.

"It'll make recruiting players better," Burt says, speaking of the future of Dalhousie hockey.

I believe the effect over the next four years will be the complete opposite.

Come play for Dalhousie. You'll be sharing the Halifax Forum with the Saint Mary's Huskies and hundreds of other community teams. You want extra ice time to practice and hone your skills? Well, there is a speed skating oval opening up down the road. Bring your spandex suit!

If I were a highly sought after hockey player trying to figure out which university to attend, I would seek another location.

Charles Crosby, Dalhousie's media spokesperson, says the athletics program believes because the Forum is better than Memorial Arena, recruitment will improve. Nicer change rooms and facilities will attract more players, they say.

Again, if I were the player, I'd appreciate at least a practice arena on my campus with a dressing room dedicated to me and my team.

And what about the players who are already on the men's and women's teams? They were just blindsided by the news that their home arena will be gone at the end of next semester. They don't even have the choice of not attending Dal anymore.

To be fair, the board did consider all of this. They asked Finance and Administration to seek out student housing alternatives so that the residents of Eliza Ritchie Hall can move out before the new residence is completed. This would allow Eliza Ritchie to be demolished and the new arena to be built sooner.

If this actually happened - and it's not likely - the university would have to develop and have plans for a $17-20 million hockey arena approved by the board, the city, and the surrounding residents within a year.

That's not happening. Even allowing four years for a new arena may be ambitious. Either way, the side-effects of building the new residence are huge. They could have given it a little more thought.

 

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