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Public gets first look at Meridian Community Centre in Pelham

PELHAM – July 16, 2018 – There were times over the past five years that Shane Smith thought he might never actually set foot in a new Pelham arena.

It was five years ago, as the vice-president of Pelham Minor Hockey, that Smith first became involved in the design process for Pelham’s new $36.2-million community centre. He led the charge, and developed the business case, for the contentious project’s second ice pad. Through the ups and downs of the process, he sometimes thought the centre — the largest capital project in town history — would never be built.

But on Saturday, Smith, and 844 others walked into the completed Meridian Community Centre in east Fonthill, as doors opened to the public for the first time.

“I don’t know if we ever thought it would get here,” laughed Smith as he took in the brightly lit atrium of the building, complete with a sizeable community room, two ice surfaces, an indoor walking track and double gymnasium. Like many who passed through the facility on Saturday, he was quick to praise the design and features of the building.

“It’s nice and bright and room compared to all the arenas I’ve been in,” said Smith.

The town hosted an open house Saturday to introduce residents to the completed building, with it officially opening to the public this Friday before the Pelham Raiders Lacrosse Paperweight Tournament delivers the first event to the building over the weekend. From there, staff will begin getting the ice surfaces ready, the first in the Accipiter Arena to be ready in time for Jr. B Hockey practices kicking off in three weeks.

Linda Colley and her husband John made the trek from Fenwick to check out the newly minted arena space. Both are looking forward to taking in Pelham Panthers Hockey. They are avid fans; they already have their season tickets booked.

“We have our reserved seats right over there,” said Linda, pointing across the 1,000-seat arena.

“I can’t wait,” said Linda, admitting she understands some of the concerns surrounding the cost of the project and those who will use it. The upgrade, she said, is long overdue, however, with Pelham’s former arena becoming increasingly dated.

“Pelham has paid its dues,” she said, noting that, even as seniors with no children, she and her husband will get a lot of use out of the centre.

“It’s everything you could ask for in a facility,” said Pelham Raiders Lacrosse board member Spencer Tanguay, looking out over the double gymnasium from the upper-floor viewing area. He placed his favour most with the accessible and roomy dressing rooms. The building, he said, exceeded long-growing expectations.

“You can’t find a problem with it,” he said.

Sports fans, organizers and players weren’t the only ones taking in the facility, or eyeing its potential uses. Pelham Art Festival president Heidi TeBrake could be found wandering the walking track above the Accipiter Arena, making plans for next year’s festival as it moves from its long-standing home at the arena on Haist Street.

“It’s lovely and bright,” she said, expecting the centre to draw even more people out for the festival held every Mother’s Day weekend.

Pelham-born-and-raised Carline Gutierrez made the trek from her current home in Hamilton to check out the new, and admittedly controversial, community centre.

“I’m excited for the town,” said Gutierrez, explaining she is glad to see an investment promoting physical engagement for young and old alike.

For Mayor Dave Augustyn, the open house came as a bit of a feather in his mayoral cap, bookending his third term heading the town. He spent the day fist-bumping children entering the facility and taking in feedback from residents. He said it was gratifying to finally see the public enjoying the centre that started with a vision years ago.

“I’m so excited so many people wanted to see it,” he said.

The opening of the new centre comes in the same week the Town announced it has reached its $3-million fundraising goal for the facility. With Interkom heading up fundraising activities the campaign will continue. A grand opening celebration for the facility is planned for Sept. 14 and 15.

Carline Gutierrez and Renie Hollingshead check out the Dr. Gary and Mall Accursi multi-purpose room at the Meridian Community Centre on July 14. – Steve Henschel/Metroland

Linda Colley looks out over the future ice surface of the Accipiter Arena in the Meridian Community Centre during an open house on July 14. – Steve Henschel/Metroland

Braeden and Brian Miltenburg make their way through the upper lobby of the new Meridian Community Centre in Pelham on July 14, as the $36.2-million facility opened its doors to the public for the first time. – Steve Henschel/Metroland

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Originally posted in Niagara This Week – Written by Steve Henschel on July 16, 2018