Special to The Journal
Historic Sarnia Arena is slated to receive a major facelift.
The venerable old rink – affectionately known to generations of local hockey fans as the ‘Brock Street Barn’ – would get $1.5 million worth of upgrades if city council approves an ambitious plan to be presented by staff Feb. 6.
Rob Harwood, the city’s director of parks and recreation, said the federal government has offered a $500,000 ‘Canada 150’ grant for the project. But in order to obtain the federal money council must match that total. And another half million dollars must be raised from the community at large.
Tentative plans call for dramatic improvements to the PA system, lighting, heating, concession stands, washrooms, facade and main entrance.
The concessions – which are not currently handicap accessible – will be moved to another location in the lobby. A third washroom – this one for use by families – is also planned.
“When we’re done it’ll be a better game-day experience for fans,” Harwood said. The upgrades would also result in considerable savings in heating and lighting costs, he predicts.
At the same time, every effort will be made to maintain the 1950s atmosphere that the building is known for. Built in 1948 at the corner of Brock and Wellington streets, the Sarnia Arena offers hockey fans an old-fashioned experience in which they are right on top of the action.
“I’d like to maintain a bit of the ’50s feel; I don’t want to take away what we’ve got here,” Harwood explained.
He is counting on corporations and individuals to help with public fundraising efforts. “We’ve got generations of people who have grown up with this building,” he said. “If there’s any building in Sarnia that people can get behind I think it might be this one.”
Greg Burr, the Sarnia Legionnaires Jr. ‘B’ hockey club’s marketing wizard, said the 68-year-old arena is important to the south end, especially now that the old Sarnia Collegiate building is slated to close soon.
“It’s important to maintain that area of the city,” he said. “We want people to talk about (the south end) in a good way. Sarnia Arena is a community hub.”
The rink was built with volunteer labour after five local service clubs and hundreds of ordinary people donated $250,000 for the project. Donors ranged from a widow who kicked in $60 to children who gave twenty-five cents a week, The Observer reported at the time.
When it opened its doors on Jan. 22, 1949 the newspaper declared, “Sarnia has an arena any city would be proud to possess. To anyone who suggests Sarnians lack civic pride and community spirit, we point to the new arena as refutation of that canard.”
Those planning the current project are counting on that same spirit to keep the ‘barn’ going for decades to come.