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Tofino hears from Multiplex Society

Coun. Baert questions whether referendum reflected will of taxpayers
Tofino's municipal council recently heard an update from the West Coast Multiplex Society.

The West Coast Multiplex Society hopes to put shovels in the ground next year.

The society is targeting 2017 to start construction on a skating rink that would be the first phase of the West Coast’s multiplex project. The multiplex is expected to eventually include a swimming pool and fitness centre.

In 2012, the West Coast voted in a referendum to support covering a West Coast multiplex’s operational costs up to $450,000 per year through taxation with 679 out of 1,094 voters—62 per cent—casting their ballots in favour of the project.

Municipal councillors in Ucluelet and Tofino have recently expressed concern over the facility’s first stage consisting of just a skating rink and no swimming pool.

West Coast Multiplex Society co-chair Ryan Orr presented to Tofino’s municipal council on June 7 to provide an update on the multiplex’s progress and assure them a swimming pool is still in the works.

“There has been certainly a lot of talk lately about this project having turned into an ice arena,” he said.

“That’s certainly not the case. Myself and the rest of the board are certainly fully on board with the full proposed multiplex…hopefully to eventually include a pool, fitness centre and various other amenities with the ice rink, of course, being the first stage.”

He said a feasibility study conducted in 2007 convinced the society to take a phased approach to the project starting with an ice rink and moving to a pool in the second phase.

In 2008 the eight West Coast communities signed a memorandum of understanding and work was done on the proposed facility’s conceptual design as well as capital and operational  cost estimates, according to Orr.

That led to 2012’s referendum where voters agreed to cover a portion of the operating costs but none of the capital costs to build the facility.

“The West Coast Multiplex Society was deemed responsible for raising all capital costs through fundraising,” Orr said.

“That, of course, is still the case and that is what we’re hopefully working towards.”

He noted an official location for the facility was finalized last year near the Tofino Airport.

In April, the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, which saw the Nation commit $100,000 for an updated detailed business plan as well as new preliminary design and construction cost estimates.

“The plan and design will be used by the West Coast Multiplex Society to fundraise the capital cost for construction,” he said.

“Hopefully in 2016 we’re looking at completion of this business plan with a preliminary construction plan in order to move forward with fundraising and grant applications.”

Orr said the updated business plan would give the society an exact capital cost to fundraise towards.

“Provided all that can come together in the next year, there is potential that we could even be shovel ready by 2017,” he said.

He added the society is investigating a prefabricated ice rink facility that would cut the project’s original construction cost estimate in half, dropping it from $12 million to $6 million.

“One company in particular that specializes in this has actually given us an exact cost estimate that comes in at under that $6 million mark,” he said.

“This project could potentially be done for a lot less than the original price tag.”

He cited Sprung, an international building solutions business, as that company and said the society has toured one of the Sprung’s completed facilities in Shawnigan Lake.

He noted the multiplex’s construction would be subject to a public bidding process through a request for proposals.

Along with lowering the expected capital costs, Orr suggested a prefabricated facility could mean lower-than-expected operating costs as well and noted the 2012 referendum covered up to $450,000 per year.

“While we are tasked with coming up with the capital costs to build it, we are certainly cognizant of the fact that we never want to go over that $450,000 a year in operating costs so, of course, we have a long term goal of trying to keep the operating costs as low as possible,” he said.

After Orr’s presentation, Coun. Dorothy Baert expressed concern over the facility’s accessibility and noted the airport location would not be within walking distance for Tofitians.

She asked Orr if the multiplex society had factored transportation costs into its business plan.

Orr said the facility should highlight the region’s need for public transportation.

“Our hope is that facilities such as this will actually accelerate the process of getting transportation on the West Coast,” he said.

He said the facility would be about a 15-minute drive from Tofino and would be significantly easier to access than the next closest ice rink in Port Alberni.

He added the 2007 feasibility study showed Tofino could not afford such a facility on its own and that the multiplex would need to be regional, meaning its location would need to be as convenient as possible for all eight West Coast communities.

“There’s no getting around the fact that Tofino and Ucluelet are 45 kilometres apart,” he said.  “We can’t change that. So, it’s going to have to be somewhere in the middle.”

Coun. Greg Blanchette said Tofino is currently in pursuit of an indoor gym and locals might not be able to afford paying for both a gym and a multiplex through taxation.

“This is kind of a tangent but some of us on council are feeling a little bit trapped between the multiplex project and the initiative to build a proper gym in Tofino, which is another expensive project,” Blanchette said.

“We’re, kind of, starting to wonder where all that money is going to come from and I’m wondering if the multiplex society board has an official position, or what your thoughts are on that little dilemma.”

Orr responded that any new facilities would be welcomed.

“The society supports any recreation opportunities on the West Coast,” he said.

“I do agree that that’s a lot for a small community to take on, but we are in support of essentially anything that gets people active and provides more indoor opportunities.”

He added the multiplex project is further along than Tofino’s potential indoor gym, which still needs to pass through a referendum similar to the one the multiplex went through.

Baert questioned whether the 2012 multiplex referendum actually captured the desire of those who would ultimately be paying for the mulitplex’s operation.

She said the referendum was open to anyone living on the West Coast at the time, including seasonal workers and renters who would not be hit with the associated property tax increase.

According to the ACRD’s website, a voter must be a Canadian citizen who has lived in BC for at least six months and lived in the electoral area for at least 30 days prior to a referendum in order to cast a ballot.

“The question was about support for a tax increase to support the operation of the multiplex, however the referendum did not go, necessarily, to those who were paying the taxes,” Baert said.

“Anybody could have responded to that question, but not necessarily everybody will be paying the bill.”

She said this concern had been brought to her by locals.

“It left a bit of an unsettling feeling in some sectors of the community that it wasn’t really quite as riguourous a question of where support lay and to what degree,” she said.

“I just don’t know that we can say with certainty that we have a high level of support in Tofino for the multiplex. That is my own understanding based on personal conversations.”



Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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