$15M N.B. civic center fuels colossal fundraising effort

Posted Oct. 20, 2008, at 9:11 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6 a.m.

ST. STEPHEN, New Brunswick — It is a massive under-taking by local international community volunteers, but when they are done there will be a new $15 million civic center, with a state-of-the-art hockey rink and Olympic-size swimming pool.

To date, volunteers from St. Stephen and neighboring comnmunities, including Calais, Maine, have raised $2.1 million. The town of St. Stephen has agreed to kick another $2.1 million in to the effort. Once the Charlotte County Civic Center is built, the town of St. Stephen will own and operate it.

The communities need to raise an additional $1.4 million locally, and Washington County has committed to help complete the fundraising.

Once that goal is reached, organizers can appeal to the Canadian federal and provincial governments, which are expected to kick in another $4.7 million each.

“The new civic center will be designed to benefit all county residents as well as citizens south of the border in Calais and northern Washington County,” organizers said on their Web site.

The center will have a $3.1 million indoor aquatic facility that will have everything from swimming and lifeguard instruction to warm-water therapy. The pool will feature an eight-lane, 25-meter training pool, including a free-form play and therapeutic section.

There also will be an $8.35 million indoor hockey rink, with an NHL-size ice surface. “The facility will be equipped with ample change rooms and will be ideally suited to accommodate both leisure skating and more traditional competitive sports like hockey and figure skating,” the Web site stated.

Right now hockey is played at the aging Border Arena in St. Stephen.

There also will be a $50,000 walking-jogging track and a $1.2 million multipurpose space including rooms for meetings, programs and other activities.

A $900,000 Boys and Girls Club will serve about 400 youngsters. The club will become the center’s first paying tenant.

There also will be a $1.4 million administrative, general and retail space area that will include staff offices, washrooms, a lounge and concession areas.

In addition to raising money, volunteers are looking at where the center will be built, likely within the town boundaries. A committee is evaluating possible sites, according to the Web site.

Heather Cunningham, the civic center’s chairwoman of communications, said Monday the volunteers were pleased with the progress.

“There is a lot more work to be done because we have to get to $3.5 million locally and we are really at the grass-roots part of the campaign right now,” she said. “A lot of the pledges that have been made in the first $2 million came from large foundation or corporations so we are really bringing the campaign home now. This next $1.5 million really needs to be raised locally here from pledges from this region, including Calais.”

Calais lawyer and civic center volunteer David Mitchell said the center would benefit Calais residents.

Mitchell said the new third bridge and road that will connect Calais and St. Stephen next year is likely to take some traffic away from downtown Calais. The new bridge is several miles from the downtown, and the civic center would be an important draw.

“I have always been of the opinion that even though Calais has been the gateway to Canada, the new bridge is going to alter that perception to some extent so that maybe St. Stephen becomes the gateway to New England,” he said.

If people are attracted to the St. Stephen downtown, the law-yer noted, there would be a spillover to Calais to shop and eat.

“St. Stephen doesn’t have the hotels that we have and those people are going to have to stay somewhere,” Mitchell added.

There also will be room in the civic center to hold concerts and other cultural events that will attract people to the area.

Another advantage, Mitchell said, will be for people from Washington County who play hockey.

“It is just going to be a new state-of-the-art-facility,” he said.

Although there have been donations from the U.S., more are expected. Right now, Mitchell said, the U.S. fundraising group is waiting for its tax-exempt status.

“Once that is done the fund-raising drive on this side of the border will pick up speed,” he said.

bdncalais@verizon.net

454-8228

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