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Ice growing thinner

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Watertown City Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr. seems to be waiting for a miracle to occur that would magically bring the costs of renovating the Watertown Municipal Arena to next to nothing.

During their meeting Monday, most City Council members informally agreed to go ahead with the rehabilitation project for the ice rink at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. The Rochester-based Stantec Consulting Services presented plans showing that the expenses could be contained to a range of $6.2 million to $7 million.

“As it now stands, the project would include a new entrance and lobby on the building’s west side, a main locker room and a hospitality room, more office space, a new concession area and a combined training-break locker room,” according to a Tuesday story in the Watertown Daily Times. “The ice rink’s roof would be replaced. Plans also call for a second floor to accommodate collapsible bleachers with an entrance from above, rather than at rink level.”

Representatives of Stantec Consulting Services told City Council members that they chipped $1.8 million off of previous estimates by eliminating 8,000 square feet of space as well as some amenities. But for Mr. Butler, this wasn’t good enough. He suggested holding even more meetings to discuss ways that costs for the plan could be further reduced.

“Mr. Butler argued that the city should develop ‘a Plan B’ in case bids come back too high, suggesting a planned second floor as an alternative bid,” the story reported. “He expressed concern that the city will soon have to spend an additional $1.5 million for City Hall renovations caused by the appointment of a second full-time City Court judge, and that the city also faces potential decreases in sales tax revenue.”

Mr. Butler is wrong on this issue. Yes, the project could be slashed to the bone to cut costs. But would such a plan be worth it for the city to undertake?

It’s highly unlikely that expenses for a renovation to the arena can be reduced much further without eliminating necessary items. Stantec pitched a plan in December with three options, ranging from $9.7 million to $11.1 million. This proposal was further cut to $7.8 million — and now it’s down to at most $7 million.

The longer the city waits to approve this project, the more expensive it will become. Mr. Butler is justified in his concern about other items the city must fund.

But the arena is in dire need of this renovation, and the council has dithered for years on getting the work done. Now is the time to give this project the green light. And at their next meeting, council members should do just that.

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