In November 2022, The Coast broke the story of the ballooning price tag on Dalhousie University’s new home ice rink. When the school’s Board of Governors approved the rink in 2021, the budget was $21.6 million; by 2022, the cost was up to $36.5 million. The additional $14.9 million was approved by the board in secret, with no mention in meeting minutes. That’s a 69% cost increase the university did not make public.
A week after that story came out, Dal announced they were pausing construction due to “the current state of the construction industry present[ing] several challenges [such as] cost pressures and the availability of construction labour.” Their update said that while they had hoped to break ground in fall 2022, they were “unable to secure competitive pricing for some project elements.”
Now, as of August 17, 2023, construction is back on.
In an email to The Coast, Dalhousie’s director of media relations confirmed the university has “notified the community that Dalhousie is resuming the construction of the Dalhousie Event Centre [and that] the facility is expected to be complete in late 2025.”
Dal’s spokesperson refused to say how much the project is currently expected to cost, and if that number has increased from $36.5 million, saying instead: “Dalhousie’s Board of Governors has approved a budget for this project. In order to ensure a competitive bidding process for elements of the project that have not reached tendering stage, we will respectfully decline requests to share the capital budget for the project at this time.”
The new rink, known as the Dalhousie Event Centre, is a capital project. This means it's largely paid for by the university’s capital fund—which the university typically puts money into each year to pay for future building projects—rather than the operating fund that pays ongoing costs like staff salaries and heating. However, the university’s total yearly revenue covers both.
Dal’s annual financial report for 2022-23 indicates revenue from all sources that fiscal year was $901.7 million. It says tuition represented “the largest source (28.5%) of total revenue at $258.9 million in 2022-23. This includes the general tuition of $238.7 million and $20.2 million of revenue from specialty programs/cohorts received directly by Faculties. Tuition fee revenue increased by $16.4 million (8.4%) over 2021-22, a result of both enrollment growth and approved tuition fee increases.”
If you use Dal’s online tuition fee calculator, you can get a picture of how much students are paying into this revenue stream, which is well above the country’s average according to a recent report from Students Nova Scotia.
Within the financial report from 2022-23, the university reports a surplus of $76.9 million. The report says: “This surplus is the consolidation of all University operations; it is important to note that not all funds are available to management to support general operations [but rather are] classified based on the following restrictions that exist on future spending:”
The first restriction is “$42.6 million of the surplus restricted for investments in Capital Assets represents the cumulative contributions by the University to acquire long-term capital assets and fund large-scale capital upgrades or replacements.”
Dalhousie’s facilities management website says: “The purpose of a new capital project and major renovation is to support the goals of the university through fostering academic innovation, enriching student experience, strengthening enrolment, supporting research excellence, developing outstanding human resources, sustaining campus renewal, ensuring financial stability, and engaging our community.”
Capital projects are often considered future revenue streams for the university, in various forms including research, energy savings and fees paid to use the space. Some of Dal’s other recent capital projects include the Killam Library Deep Energy Retrofit, the Beaty Centre for Marine Biodiversity and an expanded arts centre.
How will the event centre, whose cost and predicted revenue stream is unknown at this time, fulfill these capital project goals?
“The new Dalhousie Event Centre will provide an on-campus home for student ice-related programming (intramurals and clubs), varsity athletics, and the broader Dal community,” says the event centre’s website. “Featuring an NHL-sized ice sheet with an alternate floor surface, a state-of-the-art physiotherapy clinic and event spaces with catering capabilities, the centre will be a dynamic and inclusive space for Dalhousie and the greater Halifax community.
“The Dalhousie Event Centre will be a home for Tigers of all stripes and the addition of a multi-use facility will offer significant potential for those valued members of our greater Halifax community as well.”
The reason for building a new rink is that Dal doesn’t have an on-campus home ice. The former Memorial Arena was demolished in 2012, and the university has been leasing ice time at the Halifax Forum ever since.
“Continuing to rent time at the Halifax Forum does not present an attractive opportunity to Dalhousie Athletics and Recreation,” the centre’s site says. “This is due to the physical separation from the campus (4 kms) and the positive impact of recreational facilities for students both on and near campus.”
It would be nice to see what closing the 4km gap costs. If you have this information—if you are a member of the board, an administrator who has seen the budget or even if you’ve heard chatter around campus—The Coast wants to hear from you. Email [email protected] anonymously to reach us. All correspondence will be treated with confidentiality.