The Oval is permanent

Halifax council votes to keep ice skating on the Commons.

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Halifax council voted Tuesday to make the Common skating oval permanent, with only Dartmouth councillors Gloria McCluskey and Darren Fisher opposing.

The permanent Oval will be placed at a lower grade than was last winter’s temporary Oval, with piping and electrical work placed beneath a concrete pad that will be used in the summer for roller skating and biking. The centre of the oval will be grass, and used for Frisbee golf. The tall fencing, overhead wires and big pile of dirt that marred the site last winter will be removed. Plans for on-site vending haven’t been finalized, but one proposal is for placing vendors’ vehicles out on the adjacent streets.

Council’s motion directed staff to immediately start the planning and tendering process for the permanent structure, and the financial details will be worked out when council tackles the annual budget next month.

This year’s construction costs are $3.75 million. Next year, an additional $1.4 million will be needed to build small permanent buildings at the site. Annual operating costs are pegged at $410,000. Construction costs will be worked into the city’s long-term capital budget, which means other projects like new sidewalks will be delayed. The on-going operating costs are more problematic, but council was heartened by news that a projected $13 million budget shortfall has completely disappeared, thanks mostly to a surprisingly healthy real estate market, which brings in property and transfer taxes.

A million dollars in private donations has been pledged, but city officials don’t know if that money has any strings attached, like naming rights or advertising on the Common. That highly charged issue will be addressed in coming weeks.

Council had previously directed staff to bring in an annual budget with no tax increase, but may bend that decision to fund The Oval. If so, the tax rate would be bumped up 0.25 cents per $100 value, or about $7 annually for the average house.

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