Thursday, September 08, 2011

Kinross Curling Trust

I became a founder member of the Kinross Curling Trust because I was excited by the prospect of Scotland finally having a National Curling Academy comprising a new rink, with facilities for our top athletes, offices for our governing body and a museum to promote the sport's heritage. Last night I attended a meeting of members to be updated on the current position of the project. I drove home, the excitement of past years replaced by disappointment, tinged with a feeling of betrayal. The project is in crisis. What is being considered now is not - to my mind - a 'National' Centre.

The current trustees are listed here. I have known many of them for years. I commend them for their efforts. I doubt that anyone could have done more. They have had to pick up a project that had flaws from the outset.

Last night it was time to face up to the realities. Chairman Bob Tait gave the background to the project and the vision to have a 'Centre of Excellence', a saga that has been running for ten years. He admitted that the recent problems - now resolved - over use of the Market Park site which had delayed progress for a year meant that the project had shed impetus and members' trust had been lost. He apologised again, admitting that these issues should have been recognised much earlier.

So, what is the position today? £5 million pounds is apparently the cost of building the centre. £1.5 million only is likely to be available from sportscotland. It was emphasised that the building had to be more than a 'shed'. It needed to be a prestigious looking building, inside and out (as befits its location) and that six sheets was ideal.

Three trustees, Bob Anderson, Anne Malcolm and Alistair McCabe, had been charged with looking to see how these build costs might be reduced. Bob set out two options. The first simply removed what was considered excess space - no gymnasium, no walkways between sheets, no rooms for coaches, no spectator seating. And that brought a saving of some £200,000. Taking sportscotland's contribution and other projected sources of income, that left a funding gap of £1.58 million.

Option 2 saw the Royal Club offices and museum taken out completely, and the building reduced to a single level. That brought the projected cost down to £4.2. The money available would be less, but there is still a funding gap of £1.23 million for this option.

If the centre was to go ahead, would it be viable? Robin Niven presented the business plan. To me this seemed sound enough. Even with worse case scenarios and allowing for depreciation, working profit would be in year four. Although some borrowing is included in the income, Robin seemed against even considering trying to source bank loans in excess of a million, even if such might be available.

The members were then given two more options. First was to throw in the towel. The second was two month's grace, with a meeting to be convened in November, at which the decision would then be made to throw in the towel, or to engage with the architects and build team again, with funding, or promises of funding in place. November is the cut off for getting things underway if opening is to be for the 2013-14 season, two years hence. I think the trustees were looking for these two months, and in this they got the support of the meeting. There was lots of discussion, with talk of debentures and professional fundraisers. There was little said in the way of recrimination. Given of course that most present were local curlers and keen to see their future curling secured in a high spec facility it is not surprising that the attitude from the floor was still positive, one member even criticising Bob Tait for using the term 'throwing in the towel'! Why had the Royal Club not done more to promote this 'national' project? Could there be a levy on Royal Club members? Why has the wider curling community not shown a greater interest in the project? These were just some of the questions that were discussed.

Perhaps there is someone out there with a couple of million pounds to donate to the cause? I checked my lottery numbers last night, and it's not me.

What seems to me to be on offer now is really just a fancy rink, with little 'national' about it. Removing the off-ice facilities for our top athletes and coaches, and the spectators confined to ground floor viewing, does not make for a facility that can be called 'special', not certainly to someone who enjoys visits to Curl Aberdeen and the Dewar's Centre. Could major events be held easily in the new building without the three hundred seats as originally envisaged?

It is no longer a project that gets my support.

Mind you, having the Royal Club's offices and museum in a separate building may not be such a bad idea. I was pleased to hear Bruce Crawford, the RCCC CEO, reaffirm that these two go hand in hand. Our governing body does need something better than Cairnie House as its headquarters, and moving to a building that is not on leased land would perhaps give better long term security for the Club's members.

I can understand the reluctance to throw in the towel. So much work has been done by so many. I don't have the exact figures, but some £140,000 has been raised. Much of this (£110,000) has been spent already on such things as architects' and other legal costs. That would all be wasted. But trying to bridge a funding gap of more than a million pounds does not seem a realistic proposition to me. For what it's worth, my little towel is today hurtling into the ring. Call time on the whole business of a national centre at Kinross and go back to square one. Sorry.

Just one last thing. No one was talking last night about what would happen if the decision was indeed made to abandon the project. Bob Tait indicated that the first option was to throw in the towel, and pursue other alternatives. Just what these alternatives might be was not aired last night. Has this story more legs? I wonder.

Meantime, the existing four-sheeter in the Green Hotel at Kinross will have its ice down by September 19, when there will be a 'Try Curling' session 7.45 - 9.45 pm. Spread the word. David Jones (contact details are on this page) is the person to get in touch with if you know anyone interested.