Oxford Arena Proves Again to be a Thorny Topic
The Oxford Arena was the subject of discussion at last night’s town council meeting. Council decided in June to keep the arena closed for the 2020-21 season due in part to a financial crunch, and to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That decision didn’t sit well with many residents, who sought a volunteer-run solution to make the recreation centre available again for skating, hockey and other uses this winter.
A group of community members have come up with a plan, volunteers and some financial support. They say they just need the go-ahead from the town to make it happen.
Oxford councillors heard from staff that the town’s insurance agent and lawyer have both raised concerns, and council is proceeding very cautiously, while recognizing that time is of the essence.
Councillor Wade Adshade wondered if the rush to reopen the arena is a prudent course of action. He was on the council that approved closing the facility, and suggested it would be better in the long run to work with the community members who are showing an interest in the facility to make plans for the long-term operation of the facility, with the town at arm’s length, but not until next season.
Adshade noted that public usage of the facility has been in decline for years, and every year it has been a challenge to find the funding to keep the arena operating.
He is pleased that there are people in the community who are showing an interest, but Adshade is concerned that it is late in the season to start the reopening process, particularly with an uncertain COVID-19 winter ahead of us.
Councillor Brenton Colborne said he understands that the community group is aware of the challenges and believes it is capable of making it work, at no cost to the Town of Oxford.
Councillor Paul Jones supported the community’s proposal, if it can guarantee that the town won’t face legal or financial risks.
Chief Administrative Officer Rachel Jones noted added complications with the two unionized staff members who were laid off with the arena’s closing. If the arena returns to operation, it’s likely they could bring a grievance against the town, regardless of who is operating the facility.
Oxford Mayor Greg Henley said that if someone is able to come up with private funds to run the arena, the town should see if there’s a way to make it happen.
In the end, council decided to explore a lease arrangement with a community group to operate the arena with the main criteria: $2-million of insurance coverage, the completion of a risk assessment by the insurance provider, a guarantee that the group will abide by all public health orders and that no costs would be incurred by the town.
Discussions between town staff and the community group will continue to see if an arrangement can be made under those terms.
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