Seating reductions for new recreation complex leaving coaches unhappy

By Gabrielle Vinette
Seating reductions for new recreation complex leaving coaches unhappy
Russell brought forward the plans to remove 500 seats from the main ice surface for the Recreation Complex. (Photo : Russell Township, website)

Maurice Lemieux, team president of the Embrun Panthers does not agree with the Russell council’s decision to reduce to the main ice rink’s seating total to 250 at Russell’s new recreation complex currently in the works. 

On November 9, 2023, Russell council voted to remove seating for the main rink. Originally, 750 seats were planned for each side of the ice. As of the November council meeting, all three rinks now have just 250 seats. 

“With the municipality’s regulations, they won’t let in more than 250 people, when we could easily have up to 350 throughout the year,” said Lemieux. 

During that meeting, council also voted to remove the dedicated Junior A changing room. 

Lemieux does not agree with the Council’s decision, explaining that to accommodate the three ice surfaces, there needs to be 18 changing rooms, instead of the current 12. And with the removal of the Junior A changing room, the team president says it leaves little room for the 44 players that need to get changed for a game. 

Céline Guitard, director of parks and recreation for Russell, said that every decision is public and stated that it is up to the municipal council to make the final decision. 

“There was a public consultation way back in June 2023. So, when we continue the process, we don’t reconsult all the teams, we don’t reconsult all the villagers. [The change] is for financial reasons, and we decided we couldn’t afford it,” she said. 

Josie Bellemare, president of the Russell Coyotes said they do not want to comment “given the fact that it’s not possible to change this decision.” 

Council’s choices 

The original idea was presented to council on August 20, 2019, by the Colliers Group who provided a cost estimate for the multi-use recreational centre at the special council meeting. 

 The plan was to have three full size ice surfaces, six change rooms per rink of around 550 square foot each, two referee change rooms, two smaller multi-purpose change rooms, seating for 1,500 people in the main arena, facility storage under the bleachers on the ‘away’ side of main arena, and seating for 200 people in the second and third arena. 

Two public consultations were held online on March 3 and 10, 2021. The first in English and the other in French. Both recordings are still available on the municipality’s website under the recreation complex page as well as the Township’s YouTube page. 

On Nov. 9, 2023, after a few changes to the plans, four options were brought forward to council. Council eventually opted for a fifth option, referred to as Option E, which reduced the 750 seats for rink 1 and have all three rinks seat 250 people, and removed the Junior A changing room. Option E also removed a gym and running track from the facility. The pool and the community centre were not altered.  

Reducing the seating was touted as an “additional saving opportunity”, reducing the nearly $90 million building cost by just 4.2 per cent, according to the document presented to council. 

However, the saving opportunity clearly indicated that the facility would be unable to host any Junior A team because of insufficient seating, despite a Nov. 10, 2023, Russell press release following the council’s decision that states it was “a strategic reduction in costs without compromising the complex’s functionality.” 

The Russell administration suggested that “Option B would be the most sensible one to choose” as it was the closest to the target cost estimate, there would be less site work performed and less disturbance with the existing recreation infrastructure such as the recreational trail and advertising signs, and the most important reason was that it would still represents the public’s demand for the pool and the ice rinks. 

“We’re going to get the things that we needed to get,” said Councillor Marc Lalonde during the meeting. “We may not be getting the all the things we wanted to get but we’re certainly getting the things that we needed to get so I’m good with that.” 

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