Dear Fellow Citizens,
Westmount needs you! With this mailing, we are appealing to your civic duty. We need your input on the most important project the City of Westmount has put forward in its long history: the rebuilding of the Westmount Arena
and pool. Council would like to proceed with this project, but only if a majority of taxpayers is behind it. It is your money, after all, that will help pay for it.
I shall not pretend that the history of this rebuilding project so far has been a smooth one. Mind you, nor was the struggle to restore and expand the Westmount Library in the 1990s, but it was a project most citizens became very proud of. Your Council feels this same success can be repeated with the Arena
/pool project. But only if it is a rallying point and not a focus of division and rancour.
There were two separate designs suggested for the Arena
/pool project by the previous Council during 2009. A great deal of work went into these proposals, but they received mixed reviews in a series of public meetings. The whole of Westmount, however, was never canvassed.
The new Council, since its election in November 2009, has been working on ways to address the objections raised by citizens to the prior proposals. Objectors fell into two broad camps: people in the neighbourhood saw the new Arena
as a massive intrusion, a wall 30 feet high by 500 feet long from St Catherine Street to de Maisonneuve, jutting into Westmount Park
; meanwhile, the pool itself ate up precious green space. For the rest of Westmount, concerns had more to do with the cost: do we really need to go from one-and-one-half to two rinks? Why can’t we just fix up the existing Arena
? Others felt we needed an indoor pool more than a replication of our current sports mix.
The cost concerns were substantially mitigated by the crowning achievement of my predecessor Mayor Karin Marks: she managed, by dint of incredible perseverance - and the help of Jacques Chagnon, our local MNA - to get $20 million of infrastructure grants for the project. It is Canada’s and Quebec’s contribution that allows us to build a $37 million Arena
/pool complex that will cost Westmounters $17 million. In fact, the cost to taxpayers will probably be closer to $12 million, thanks to contributions from Westmount schools, foundations, and private donors. This cost translates into an additional $200 a year in taxes for the average single-family dwelling.
What about the neighbours and the sheer bulk of the Arena
? Well, if we had to describe the essence of our city, we would surely be torn between invoking Westmount’s unique architectural heritage and Westmount’s prized greenspace. This Council wants a project that respects both. We want the park to win the battle between it and the Arena
. We do not wish to plunk a massive piece of architecture down in an established greenspace.
So we have gone underground. Council’s plan is to bury the ice rinks, putting tennis courts and grass on top of them - creating the ultimate green roof. Skylights will bring in natural light. Only the entrance pavilion and Teen Centre will be above-ground.
Rather than taking away prime parkland, Council’s plan actually creates over an acre of new greenspace in the neighbourhood and “de-enclaves” the little park at Lansdowne and St Catherine that was barricaded in 1958 by the current Arena
– all the while opening up new vistas onto Westmount Park
from neighbouring streets.
This project will consist of two NHL-sized rinks, one furnished with comfortable seating and better sightlines. There will finally be ice time for girls’ hockey, instructional skating programmes, free skating, and broomball. In summer, one of the rinks can be used for indoor sports and day camps. A bigger swimming pool - along with a separate toddler pool, play pool, and terrace - will provide new services for both athletes and recreational swimmers alike. The Teen Centre will benefit from an expanded space. There will be a café, a pro shop, and larger locker rooms, along with a community space to accommodate residents young and old.
Why two rinks? Well, Westmount is almost alone in the way it approaches hockey (and sports in general). Rather than turning down most children and accepting only the best to play owing to limited ice time, our philosophy has always been to encourage all kids to play no matter what their talent level. In spite of the Westmount stereotype, we don’t just cater to the elite. This explains the statistics: most cities have a 10% rate of participation in kids’ skating and hockey; our rate is 27%. Besides that, since the 1990s, Council has had a policy of encouraging young families to settle here. And, though contrary to received wisdom, 5-14-year-olds is one of the fastest-growing age groups in Westmount.
Lastly, what about an indoor pool? The user study did show that, in spite of the YMCA pool, we will probably need one in the future, if not now. The problem is we can’t afford to add it at this time; besides, the infrastructure grant is very specific: two rinks and an outdoor pool. Since an indoor pool would not be covered by this grant, its roughly $8 million cost, along with inherently high operating costs, could result in a doubling of the tax increase, from $200 to $400 per year. Our debt, already high at $38 million thanks to the four-year merger with the Montreal megacity, would increase by $12 million with an Arena
and outdoor pool, but by $20 million if we built both an indoor and an outdoor pool. And an indoor/outdoor pool, I am told, is not a practical solution in our climate.
For those of you who are in favour of rebuilding the Arena
and pool the way they are, I must point out that option would cost you, the taxpayer, even more. This is because the grant is very specific and will shortly expire. Even just fixing up what we have without a grant would cost the same as this proposal with a grant. Indeed, being able to build a $37 million facility that costs taxpayers as little as $12 million is an opportunity that does not come along every day.
So please fill in the enclosed questionnaire and tell us what you think; or, alternatively, go to www.westmount.org. You will also find posted there the various studies we commissioned. For more information, go to the same website or call 514-989-5240.
This is your project. This is why we shall only proceed with your support. Thank you.
Yours very truly,
Peter F. Trent