It has been exactly 40 years since the original Keystone Centre first opened its doors in Brandon, and as such, it has well served the needs of this community.
As the centre’s own website points out, the Keystone was established through an agreement between the City of Brandon and the Province of Manitoba that saw the two parties share equally in any deficit that was created out of its annual operations.
There have been expansions made to the Keystone Centre since its construction, including the addition of 30,000 square feet with the construction of the Manitoba Room, the Pioneer Lounge and the Amphitheatre in 1982, and 165,000 square feet of tradeshow and recreation space in 1992, and of course the Westoba Agricultural Centre of Excellence, which was added in the last decade.
But the facility, which has in many ways become the social, recreational, cultural and agricultural hub for the city, is really starting to show its age.
As the Sun reported last year, the roofs of both the City Square and the Exhibition Hall buildings have been leaking for many years.
The buildings, estimated to have been constructed somewhere in the early 1960s prior to the Keystone Centre’s construction, are simply age-expired.
Earlier this year, Keystone board chairman John Macialek said that nearly $4 million was needed for roofing upgrades, and other repairs. The Amphitheatre has also been closed due to its state of disrepair.
This week, Brandon City Council decided to chip in nearly $1.1 million into facility capital upgrades — funds that are dependent upon matching funds from the federal and provincial governments.
As the Sun reported, city council approved spending $1,094,974.85 from the 2013 budget to help the old convention and events centre fix the leading roofs and repair its crumbling infrastructure.
There was some urgency in the council’s decision, as the deadline for a necessary infrastructure program is drawing near.
The measure was approved with a 9-1 majority, with only Coun. Jeff Fawcett (Assiniboine) opposing the expenditure — Meadows Coun. Jim McCrae was not present at the meeting.
Knowing that the motion was likely to pass, Fawcett suggested that he decided not to vote in its favour in order to make a point, in anticipation of the upcoming budget deliberations.
“The Keystone Centre is a major piece of our city and we need to support it, but we got surprised with a lot in last year’s budget. We know those surprises better this year and the bottom line is that we’ll either be paying people or building stuff. I want people to remember that in our budget discussions.”
As far as that goes, we happen to agree with Fawcett. If the city goes through with the payment, our mayor and councillors will have to find a way to pay for it, and — we expect — do it without a substantial tax increase.
But we also note that the Keystone Centre is a Brown Block situation waiting to happen, and in our opinion the City of Brandon has really been left without much of a choice in the matter.
The alternative — to let it fall into ruin — is not really an alternative the city can afford to entertain.
The Keystone Centre is our MTS Centre, Winnipeg Convention Centre and community centre all rolled into one. It is essential that it be not only repaired, but properly maintained in the future, with an eye to address future structural problems before they become a detriment to normal operations, and the health of the facility’s business model.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 18, 2012