By Philip Round, Comox Valley Echo

The future of the Comox Valley Curling Club will have to be satisfactorily resolved before major redevelopment of the exhibition grounds can proceed, regional district directors made clear this week.

The regional district board was discussing plans for a possible $12.3 million revamp of the Headquarters Road grounds that could include a big new indoor agricultural arena with a smaller multi-purpose hall roughly on the site of the existing curling club.

The curling facility is said to be nearing the end of its life and before long will need either a huge upgrade or a brand new building if it is not to close down.

Consultants who prepared the exhibition grounds ‘master plan’ had been advised a new building on a different site would be the most likely decision, so made no provision for the club’s retention at its present location in their planning.

Rural Area C director Edwin Grieve said the club would prefer to “age in place” if possible, but recognized at some stage the building’s floor – at least – would need replacing and that would be very expensive.

He thought the regional district should be “squirreling something away each year” for the day when that work had to be done.

The other improvements to the exhibition grounds, including new buildings on the site, could be rearranged to accommodate it if necessary.

He agreed with Courtenay Coun. Larry Jangula that no existing, established user of the grounds should be “left out in the cold,” whether that was the curling club, therapeutic riding society or other long-standing organization.

And he felt sure the proposed exhibition ground upgrades could be done at a much lower price than the $12.3 million suggested.

The regional district’s senior manger of recreational facilities, Darcy Walters, said curling club officials understood the building was nearing the end of its life but didn’t want pushing out.

He said staff had already pledged to work with then on a solution, but no one knew whether they were talking about two or ten years before matters had to be resolved.

The club was forming a committee to work with regional district staff to consider the future of the premises. In the meantime, nothing would be committed that prejudiced the outcome of those discussions.

The board agreed to pencil in almost $2 million to next year’s financial plan to progress electrical and water supply upgrades at the exhibition grounds.

There is no guarantee that this sum will actually be committed, but will be considered in more detail at budget time because those aspects of the project were reported to have wide support among users.

As far as the bigger aspects of the scheme are concerned – including the new indoor arena, which itself could cost more than $5 million – staff will now be asked to explore all possible funding opportunities for the longer term, including private sector contributions.

Director Grieve said the cost of redevelopment was large, but the economic impact could be substantial.

If, for example, some of the bigger horse shows on the Island could be attracted to the exhibition grounds, the spending spin-offs from the many participants and spectators could bring $500,000 to the valley on a single weekend. Both Area B director Jim Gillis and Coun. Jangula suggested a possible year-round farmers’ market building, currently envisaged on the Farquharson Farms site near 17th Street Bridge, might be better located at the exhibition grounds. They suggested the issue should be explored with the Comox Valley Economic Development Society.

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