BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Seeing is believing

Residents must be given a chance to see Civic Arena upfront and personal

The media was provided with a no holds barred tour of Vernon’s Civic Arena.

The goal was to present current conditions at the 1938 facility and it immediately became obvious that there are significant deficiencies.

Perimeter cracks abound in the walls, with the worst being in sections B and G while there are fractures in the trusses far above the ice.

Leaving the main building and going outside, we enter a side structure for condenser storage where the roof joists need to be upgraded.

“We’re worried about it coming down,” said Jim Coughlin, facilities manager, of wet snow adding extra weight.

In the north mechanical room, joists are rotten and caved in.

Back inside the main arena, we head to the washrooms where some antiquated fixtures have been replaced. However, a men’s washroom has been abandoned because the toilets don’t work.

“There’s not much demand for an extra washroom  so instead of investing dollars, you shut the room off,” said Doug Ross, recreation services director.

Seventy-seven-year-old electrical wiring is being investigated and the scope of potential upgrades is unknown.

But while what we’ve seen to date is staggering, the worst is yet to come as we stop next to the ice sheet itself.

Buried under the ice are brine pipes needed to keep everything cold. They are covered in corrosion and 60 per cent of the pipe wall integrity is gone.

“The possibility of the brine system failing is imminent,” said Ross.

A sudden break would require the ice to be melted and the concrete broken open for repairs, but some city officials question going to that expense given the age of the refrigeration system. If the repairs aren’t made, 40 per cent of Civic’s users will be benched permanently because there isn’t enough ice time elsewhere.

On top of this, heaving has led to variances in ice thickness from one to 4.5 inches, and the concrete slab is covered in cracks that prevent ball hockey and lacrosse in the summer.

But just as we think the tour is wrapping up, we’re taken down to the lower levels where minor hockey stores equipment.

Exterior water has undermined large sections of the concrete wall and the wood frame. The potential price tag is about $100,000.

“It may be more efficient to lock the door and not do repairs,” said Ross of the storage area.

While the first-hand experience of seeing Civic was worthwhile and will assist reporters covering the issue, it’s not the media that has to be convinced that a new ice sheet is required.

Leading up to the Nov. 28 referendum, Greater Vernon residents must be provided with an opportunity to tour Civic themselves and get a sense of the structural problems, the costs for upgrades and the arena’s ultimate lifespan. That way they can then balance those factors against borrowing funds for twinning Kal Tire Place and make an informed decision at the ballot box.

The City of Vernon and Regional District of North Okanagan could rely on press releases to create awareness, but the old adage of seeing is believing rings true.