Power to the people who use the Bothwell Arena.
They dominated Thursday’s public meeting to discuss the proposed municipal budget, as one of the ideas put forward by municipal staff this year was to close that East Kent arena.
With no meeting on the budget scheduled anywhere near Bothwell, supporters of the arena flooded the Chatham meeting and sent a loud, clear and proactive message to councillors and staff in attendance.
About 100 people attended the Chatham meeting, and the majority were on hand to defend the arena.
Jamie Beatty, 33, a Bothwell resident and Ridgetown teacher, led the charge. He said the arena is “the heartbeat” of the East Kent community.
“The Bothwell Arena is truly the hub of our community. When it’s gone, there is truly nowhere left to build community spirit.”
Beatty said with Chatham-Kent consistently receiving poor physical fitness and health grades, closing a facility that encourages physical activity is not a smart decision.
Rather than attend in force and simply gripe about the notion of the closing of their arena, the Bothwell contingent wants to work with municipal staff to seek solutions.
“Instead of cutting services, we should find ways to enhance and improve facilities,” Beatty said. “Allow the community to develop a focus group to ensure the long-term sustainability of the arena.”
Jordan Bray, representing the Bothwell men’s hockey group, followed Beatty to the podium, and was just the second of numerous speakers to support the arena on the night.
He said many of the players in the group come from outside of Bothwell to play, and believes people are willing to drive to get ice time.
“Forty-three per cent of players in Bothwell men’s hockey travel 20 minutes or more to play,” he said. “The arena has a rich and colourful heritage.”
He too supported the idea of establishing a community group to work with municipal parks and recreation staff.
Beatty said there are times when users are denied ice time at the arena.
“There are user groups actively looking for additional ice time and are getting turned away. Groups are turned away because it’s not fiscally worth opening the rink for one or two hours on specific days,” he said.
The message to keep the arena open was received, as there were several councillors present, as well as the mayor, and about two dozen municipal staff.
“I think they got the message loud and clear,” Mayor Randy Hope told the gathering. “I can’t predict how people will vote, but I can imagine they will pull it off the table on the first night (of budget deliberations). Put it maybe in a holding pattern for a year.”
Chatham Coun. Derek Robertson, the chair of the budget committee, was impressed by the turnout.
“It was absolutely fantastic to see the community come together like this. I’m confident a good decision will be made,” he said.
Beatty left the meeting cautiously optimistic.
“Council has a tough decision, but it (the arena) is too important to our community to have it on the chopping block,” he said. “We do want to be involved. We have many ideas. We can help make it viable. We are not asking someone to do it for us.”
Also discussed at the meeting were items such as the cost of street cleaning, whether declining gas prices were factored into the proposed budget in regards to the municipal vehicle fleet, the WDC Rail line, giving money to the Ridgetown campus of the University of Guelph, a possible interchange at Charing Cross Road and Highway 401, consultant fees, and the downtown streetscape plan for Chatham.
Paul Shettell, representing the Historic Downtown Chatham BIA, stressed to council the need to keep an engineering study on the project in the 2016 budget. If senior levels of government were to offer funding for infrastructure projects, “without an engineering study, that (the streetscape plan) is not a shovel-ready project,” he said.
Shropshire said the hope is to have the streetscape work done to coincide with the completion of the Boardwalk on the Thames condo project.