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Bala Arena reopens thanks to community outcry

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Muskoka Lakes council has unanimously decided that the Bala Arena will be reopened and the ice will be put in.

Director of Public Works Ken Becking estimates it will cost about $100,000 to put the ice in for the upcoming season. 

The reversal in decision comes after resident Jill MacDonald created a petition asking for council to open the arena. As of Wednesday’s council meeting, 1,222 people signed the online petition, with hundreds more signing a paper petition. A rally was also held outside of the Bala Arena on Sunday with Mayor Phil Harding and Councillor Glenn Zavitz one of the hundreds that attended. 

Council decided in October that the arena would be used for alternative purposes with pickleball and a walking track floated. 

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Becking noted that $330,100 was budgeted for the arena and that it’s “well below” that mark. With the ice going in, he estimated that putting the ice in would bump up the current arena expenditure up to between $275,000 to $285,000. 

The discussion from council centred mostly on how this could affect the 2022 budget. After about 10 minutes of back and forth, Mayor Phil Harding shut it down and asked council to focus on the matter at hand, which is whether or not the ice will be put into the arena. He said potential budget changes will be discussed at a later time. Before that happened, Becking noted that the 2022 draft budget was done under the assumption that the arena would be closed for the upcoming winter and reopened for the 2022/23 season. 

Dianne Davidson was one of two residents to speak to council ahead of the vote. She said four businesses have written a letter to council detailing how they will support the arena once it reopens. 

“This proposal is a fantastic representation not only in the interest and enthusiasm of our area residents but a commitment to work together with the township to ensure the Bala Arena is alive and thrives,” she said. On top of the businesses, Bala Court Storage confirmed to her they will purchase $1,000 worth of ice time and donate it over the holidays.

Fred Orchard was the other resident to speak. Both he and Davidson’s delegations highlighted how the nearly five-decade old arena is the lifeblood of the community and by keeping it closed, council is doing more harm than good to the community.

“The reality is things change and what I appreciate about this council is that we’re not always right,” Harding said about the vote. 

He added that he’s proud council is able to admit when they get things wrong and make the appropriate changes. Harding also thanked the community for making sure their voices were heard.

A timeline wasn’t provided, but the motion that was passed said the ice would go in “as soon as possible.

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