Charlottetown faces tough decision on Simmons sports complex

Nigel Armstrong
Published on January 21, 2014

Charlottetown is facing a difficult decision about the future of Simmons arena and went public Tuesday with three options.

The facility is 40 years old, said Jeremy Pierce, arenas superintendent for Charlottetown during a public meeting at Queen Charlotte school to present the Simmons sports complex master plan.

The city hired consultants two years ago, including an engineering firm, to study the area, consult with the public and come up with a plan.

City's web page on Simmons project

That was presented to council last June but still leaves options. No money is available for any change, so the process is just a guiding plan for the future, the meeting was told.

The consultations showed residents had a strong emotional attachment to the outdoor pool adjacent to Simmons arena. It currently is in bad shape, so all options for the future include investing close to $1 million for a new outdoor pool, perhaps with a splash pad or wading pool.

There was also strong support for an artificial turf field.

There are three in the province and none of them are owned by the city and none are big enough for football, said Terry Allen, Vice President of Football PEI.

“Anything that goes end-zone to end-zone, I’m for that,” he said at the meeting.

Things, however, get complicated fast. If there is a big investment it what as called option two, to put a second ice surface next to a renovated Simmons, that creates a huge demand for extra parking and pretty well closes the door on making the existing main field into artificial turf, said Pierce.

It also has the awkward situation of trying to maintain both a new and an old facility.

Why not eliminate the pool from the Simmons complex, said Michael James, President at Ringette PEI.

“Why have two within blocks,” he said of the Victoria Park pool.

That brought a flurry of replies from the nearly 25 members of the public in attenendance, about the different nature of the two pools.

“As you can see, it really is an emotional issue,” said Pierce.

Also at play is Cody Banks arena which is also 40 years old. It has a building structure in excellent shape but mechanical systems in poor condition. Simmons arena’s structure needs repair but its mechanical systems work well.

In option one, both could take an investment to keep going for five years, and up to $7 million in Simmons arena and sports fields to keep going for 10 years, but then a new twin-rink facility would still need to be built.

Neither has regulation-size ice surfaces for hosting higher-end events, the meeting was told. A new facility in some yet unknown location could be multipurpose for speed skating, figure skating, and an ice size to an emerging new standard somewhere between NHL and international dimensions, plus have more efficient mechanical systems compared to the 40-year-old rinks, said Pierce.

Option three is to keep Simmons arena going as long as possible with minimal investment while council works on a new, twin ice recreation complex somewhere, somehow.

When the arena goes, the Simmons park area would house a landscaped trail system, a clubhouse for teams using a new $1.5 million artificial turf field big enough for all users, and upgrades to the other surrounding playing fields.

The meeting ended with maps of the final option passing around for residents to write down comments.

Of special interest, said Sue Hendricken, manager of parks and recreation for the city, was any opinions the principals of Queen Charlotte junior high school and Colonel Gray senior high school had about the proposals for the Simmons complex that surrounds their schools.