An issue that has been bubbling for awhile in South Brook rose to the surface last week in a meeting of council.
The discussion revolved around the Hillside Recreation Complex, a building known locally as "the Dome", it's current use and function and its potential for other uses.
For decades the building has been used all seasons for various events; mostly community gatherings and sports events.
The asphalt floor inside the building can be flooded in winter, allowing an ice surface for a game of 'shinny' or general skating.
However, some say that in recent years the building has been under-utilized.
During the Municipal Election in September, The Dome became a hot topic, as candidates and residents alike felt that the building had been ignored, and was becoming a financial strain on the town, which was still paying the bills for it.
At the Candidates Forum in September, the Dome dominated discussion as candidates came down on both sides of the argument.
Tempers really flared when it was mentioned that there were still plans to renovate The Dome and turn it into a multi-purpose complex, rather than just a recreation building.
"This has been an idea that's been around long before me," Mayor Paul Mills told The Nor'Wester last week. Mills was re-elected mayor in 2013, and said when he joined council, the idea of a multi-purpose building was already in the works, and a hot-button issue in the town.
"Where we find ourselves is we need an area to meet the needs of the town, and right now we just don't have it," he said.
The Mayor noted the Fire Department needs space to run their Green Depot, which is a source of revenue for the Department that allows them be self-sufficient. Currently the department is renting another space in the town. Mills says the Fire Department would like to get out of that situation, and find a space better suited to their needs.
They also need storage space, and a garage to park one of their trucks, which currently is parked outside, says the Mayor. Before that, it was stored in the personal garage of the fire chief.
"The Fire Department just doesn't have enough room to keep everything they have, and to run the depot and function properly," he said. "We need to get it all under one roof, easily accessible to everyone."
Mills says the town is also in need of a garage to carry out repairs on town equipment. Right now any repairs that are needed are carried out outside.
"And we need some sort of recreation facility for those who utilize it," he said.
"Right now, it's all one big recreation facility," he said. "I felt it can be all-in-one, and still meet the needs of everyone."
With all that in mind, Mills recently started developing a plan on how he felt the entire town could use The Dome.
He sketched out a floor plan that would see the Fire Department, Town depot and Recreation Facility all under the Dome roof.
"I envisioned the building divided in three sections, with a wall separating each section," he said. "On the end, where the dressing rooms and washrooms were, that would still be the recreation area, and we could utilize it much like we do now."
Mills said while obviously smaller than what they have now, the area for recreation would still be 2700 square feet - what he believes to be ample room for the amount of use the building has gotten in recent years.
The floor would also be upgraded, he added, to concrete rather than asphalt, making it easier to flood in winter.
The centre part of the building would be the municipal garage, he said, allowing the town maintenance crews to work on equipment inside, in comfort, rather than having to deal with outside elements.
"It wouldn't be permanent storage," he said. "Just a place where work can be done safely and comfortably."
Mills says the area could also be used by residents for building floats for parades around Christmas and other holidays.
The third section would then be used by the Fire Department for the Green Depot, storage, and to house the truck they currently don't have space for. Mills says by the Fire Department moving the Green Depot into the building, it would save the rent they're currently paying, allowing more money to go into equipment and training, thus benefiting all residents.
Mills submitted his plans to the Recreation Committee and the Fire Department for their thoughts.
"I gave them a copy of my drawing, as well as a blank floor plan," he said, "so they could offer suggestions or changes as they saw fit."
Mills says his intention was to open a dialogue that all groups could benefit from.
Soon, he received his responses - one for, and one against.
"I wasn't at either meeting where the groups discussed it," he said. "However, the word we got back was that the Fire Department were overwhelmingly in favor of the plans, and the recreation committee weren't."
The issue was tabled for discussion at Tuesday night's public meeting of council.
The Mayor said so many members of the public showed up that they had to move the meeting out of chambers and into the town hall.
At the meeting, a petition was presented, signed by 272 members of the community.
That number, Mills noted, surpasses the number of people that voted in the last municipal election and that represents approximately 70% of the voting population of the town.
At Tuesday's meeting all councilors had opportunity to talk to the issue, and ask questions of each other, except Councilor Wallce McKay, who was found in conflict on interest.
McKay is currently the owner of the building being rented by the Fire Department, and was in a position to potentially be at a financial loss should the council decide to move out of that space.
Eventually, after what Mills calls a lengthily discussion, Councilor Rocky Morey motioned for a vote to be taken on the issue.
"The vote came down as three for the changes to the Dome, and three against," says the Mayor. A tie vote meant the motion was defeated.
"I was shocked," he said. "I couldn't believe that it was defeated - that councilors had voted against a plan that would see a number of groups benefit, and would be for the good of all residents of South Brook."
Members of the public at the meeting we also upset.
Councilor Danielle Elliott says a number of people said angry comments and were obviously upset after the meeting.
Elliott was one of the Councilors that voted against the motion, along with Councilor Donald Higdon and Councilor Gloria Andrews.
Councilors Marlene Burton and Rocky Morey joined the Mayor in voting for the motion.
"This is something that's been going on for too long, and it seems that people just won't let it go," said Elliott. The issue with the Dome is an emotional one for a number of people in South Brook, she says, and ever since the modification plans were first announced a number of years ago, its been a source of controversy and debate.
"I don't know why it keeps coming up," she said. "There have been motions made in the past, and they've been defeated before, and then there have been others made and not acted on; yet, they still don't want to let it go, they're determined to keep it going."
Elliott says she voted against the renovations because she feels that the town has an opportunity to improve the Dome for the youth of the town.
"I'm all about the kids - that's why I joined council, to help the youth of the town," she said. "We've got the Dome flooded this year, and we're seeing people there every day."
Elliott was, in fact, on her way to the Dome when she was contacted by The Nor'wester for comment last week. She says a number of youth were at her door waiting to go.
"We have it there, it can be used - we just need to be given a chance," she said.
Councilor Elliott is also the Chair of the Recreation Committee. She says since her time with the committee, they've accomplished a lot in the community when it comes to facilities - including work on the Dome, and the ball field. There have been times, though, she said, when the controversy surrounding the Dome has made it hard for them to use it like they want to.
Elliott also questions whether those who signed the petition knew fully what they were signing. According to her, a number of people she spoke with the next day said they didn't realize the full situation when they signed their names on the line.
"It's separating the town, and it keeps getting brought up," she said. "It's affecting people in town and that's sad."
The Nor'wester received a number of phone calls last week from residents of South Brook, wanting to comment on the situation with the Dome. One woman called it "shameful" how some members of council and the public were treating the situation. Another lady called the whole situation "a mess," and said it's too bad a solution can't be reached. Both residents said they support a multi-use complex.
As for what's next, Mayor Mills says he's not sure.
"I guess council will have to deal with that in the future, because the need is still there, and it still needs to be met," he said.
Mills added that if the Dome can't be renovated to accommodate the Fire Department needs, then a separate building might have to be built, which will be an extra cost to taxpayers.
"This option would have meant one building to maintain, and renovating it to fit our needs would have been much, much cheaper than building a whole new building," he said. "What we'll have to do now, I'm not sure."