Dal construction plans heat community debate

Local residents say university is breaking promise to build north of South Street


Residents near Dalhousie are upset the university is suggesting it could build a new Memorial Arena south of South Street. (Photo:Google Map)

The proposed demolition and rebuilding of Memorial Arena was the hot topic as Dalhousie University hosted its annual community outreach meeting last night.

Around 50 members of the nearby community addressed their concerns to a panel of representatives.

A mixed use facility, which will be built on the corner of LeMarchant and South Streets, was the cause of considerable criticism. The crowd was unhappy about plans for another residence across the street from their homes, however the big problem is the consequences for the arena.

The facility will be built right next to where the Memorial Arena stands now. If the facility goes ahead as planned, the result will be too large of a build-up of snow on the arena's roof — which is aging fast, according to Lamb.

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The panel, featuring university president Tom Traves, VP of facilities Mike Lamb, head of security Mike Burns listen to a question. (Photo Credit: Connor Rosine)

So while Dalhousie President Tom Traves cautioned that the arena's demolition is "not finalized yet," he acknowledged it's "probably a done deal."

Crowd members wanted to know why the possibility of renovating the arena seemed to be off the table. Lamb said that a decision had been made that the investment in such an old building would simply not be worth it. One crowd member responded with "The investment in our community would be worth it."

Most of the answering was done by Traves and Vice-President of Facilities Jeff Lamb, as the conversation was dominated by concerns about Dal's construction plans.

After a safety presentation from Mike Burns, head of Dal security, Lamb gave a presentation that outlined the school's construction plans.

During his presentation, Lamb mentioned three possibilities for the site of the new arena. One would be where the current arena is, another would be across the street, where Eliza Ritchie Hall is, and an unexplored option would be a joint community arena with SMU and the Halifax Regional Municipality.

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Eliza Ritchie Hall, beside the existing Dalplex, a possible site for the new arena.

Traves attempted to assuage the crowd by saying that outside of the possibility of a co-op venture, any construction of a new arena south of South Street would be on Dalhousie land, where Eliza Ritchie Hall stands.

The small residence, according to Traves, will likely be demolished as soon as the multi-use facility opens, with or without something to build in its place. Currently, the university plans to use the land for an expansion to the Dalplex sports facility.

Citing zoning by-laws, one member of the crowd said Dalhousie wasn't even allowed to expand Dalplex, much less build an arena there. Some members of the crowd began to bemoan the presence of existing structures such as Dalplex and Risley Hall.

Things hit a high pitch when Traves replied to a question with, "The university is here. We've been here longer than the community has," which drew loud boos from the crowd.

Though the conversation remained civil, tensions were high, as the possibility of a new arena being built for the sake of a new residence did not seem popular.

Traves said all input was appreciated, but that a plan must be put in place soon. The university hopes to demolish the old arena in April and have a replacement functioning in three to four years.

Other raised concerns were the ever-present problem of loud students late at night and campus safety. Superintendent Sean Auld of the Halifax Regional Police was on the panel, and he addressed these topics, citing lower crime rates in the past couple of years, and a concerted effort to ticket those drinking in public.

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