From idea to reality
Rotary Spirit Centre project faced many hurdles along the way
This Saturday’s grand opening celebration for the Westlock Rotary Spirit Centre represents the culmination of more than five years of work on the project.
And although the project has seen several delays and cost overruns, and required countless hours of planning and fundraising, project proponents are saying it was all worth it.
“We think it’s more than bricks and mortar, we think it’s an edifice for our community showing what we can do once we make up our mind. It’s not only the town of Westlock, there’s lots of people in the foundation who are from the county as well,” Mayor Bruce Lennon said.
The Spirit Centre had quite a few hurdles to overcome along the way.
The project first came about in 2006, when town council and community members began to discuss replacing the aging Jubilee Arena, which is nearly half a century old. The Spirit of Westlock Foundation was soon established to push for construction of a new arena and field house.
Initial plans called for a $22 million project supported by both the town and county. While Westlock town council was supportive of the project right from the beginning, county council was hesitant to get on board.
The matter ultimately went to a vote amongst county residents after the Spirit of Westlock Foundation circulated a petition calling on the county to hold a plebiscite.
Although the petition was found to be technically invalid, a plebiscite ultimately went ahead asking if county residents wanted to pay $49 per $100,000 of assessment to help pay for the project.
Despite an information campaign by members of the Spirit of Westlock Foundation, county resident ultimately voted against participating in the project.
“This is finished as far as the county is concerned,” reeve Charles Navratil said when the results were in.
With county contributions out of the question, many suggested the project would be less likely to get provincial and federal grant funding.
The scale of the project was subsequently scaled back, and ultimately Balon Construction, Ltd. was awarded a fixed-price contract to build the new facility for about $12.6 million in time for the 2011/2012 hockey season.
Everything was going smoothly until the company went into a voluntary receivership in October 2010, indicating financial troubles. Suspicions about the company’s solvency were confirmed in February 2011 when the town sought and was granted a court order terminating the contract with Balon.
The town took over the project, and hired Brenex Construction as the project manager later that month, tasked with giving contracts for all the sub-trades. At that point the town still hoped to have the project completed for a cost reasonably close to the original price tag, and on the same timeline.
In January 2011, the Westlock Rotary Club was given official naming rights for the project, and decided on the name Westlock Rotary Spirit Centre in March.
In early April, the town announced that not all subcontracts to complete the project had been awarded, and that the project would not be completed until 2012. Later that month, the town announced the price tag had risen from the initial $12.6 million estimate to be somewhere closer to $15.5 million.
Town council passed a bylaw in early May 2011 allowing the town to borrow an additional $3 million to complete the project.
Construction continued with a few hiccups throughout the rest of the year, and by 2012 the building was looking more erect each day.
There were some big milestones in the early months of the year, most notable among them being the pouring of the arena floor — a process that took the better part of a day and dozens of workers to get it all done in one go.
Town manager Darrell Garceau said he had hoped the facility would be completed in April or early May, giving town staff plenty of time to get accustomed to the new facility before the official opening, but some delays in receiving and constructing the arena seating pushed back completion into June.
The parking lot was paved late last week, just in time for the June 12 Randy Travis concert and the June 16 grand opening celebration.
Starting June 17, the facility will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days per week.
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