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Arena project pared down to cut costs

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The town is keeping a tight lid on the new single ice surface set to be built adjacent to Memorial Arena and the Sportsplex in order to keep the price tag as low as possible, Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said yesterday afternoon.

The final stamp of approval was given to the project by the seven-member arena committee Monday, paving the way for the new 1,000-seat, North American-sized ice surface to be built.

The town originally had decided to build an Olympic-sized surface, with the option of reducing it to a North American one. But the mayor said the committee deemed the cost of having the Olympic surface was too high.

He estimated it would have cost an additional $300,000-$500,000 for that option.

Meanwhile, the town expects to save a sizable amount of money through operating expenses by having the new arena built adjacent to Memorial Arena and the Sportsplex.

The project will be going out to tender shortly, with bids expected back by mid-January. Mayor Witherspoon said he expects a decision to be made by mid-February and then construction to begin by spring.

The town already had turned down four different design proposals from Kuch Stephenson Architects, each time asking the Thunder Bay company to lower the price. One source told the Times the first cost was in the $7-million range.

The projected cost to build the latest design is considerably lower than that although Mayor Witherspoon refused to disclose the exact figure out of fear that would tip off companies on how much the town was willing to spend before the tenders were in.

The approved design features a double-level indoor rink that will consist of six dressing rooms, a meeting room on the upper level, concessions, and a room for retail space.

The upper level will be handicap accessible, and the whole building will be protected by a security camera system.

Meanwhile, the heating and lighting will be upgraded at existing Memorial Arena. The last row of seating also will be taken out in order to produce a more adequate walkway for the public to use during the winter months.

To accommodate the greater influx of traffic, a new parking lot will be built in the area adjacent the tennis courts, eliminating the ball diamond there.

And when Memorial Arena outlives its life expectancy, the mayor said it can be removed from the complex without affecting the Sportsplex or the new arena.

The mayor said the town soon will be putting in a request for heritage funding to help alleviate the cost of maintaining Memorial Arena. He also noted he’s excited to see the project draw closer to fruition.

“It will be a great day for the future of sports in Fort Frances,” he added, noting the new arena also will bring a positive economic impact to the town.

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