URGENT work to bring Melvin Arena up to the standard needed to allow Strabane Athletic to play IFA Championship/Premier Intermediate League games there is being considered by local councillors.
Should Athletic gain promotion one of the key criteria needed to allow them to host home matches at Melvin is the provision of a 200 seater stand for supporters.
The club recently approached Derry City and Strabane District Council to ask them to help expedite this work so the ground would be at the required standard for the 2019/20 season.
The proposal was discussed at the monthly council meeting on Thursday when Barry O’Hagan, head of Leisure and Community Development, told members there were a number of options, with various costing, available to the council. These options included: a permanent stand to accommodate 200 people; a semi permanent stand – which would be erected and left up for the season; or a movable structure erected before and taken down after each game.
Mr O’Hagan explained. “The long-term permanent works has been estimated at approximately £1million. The cost of the provision of a short-term compliant stadium has been estimated at approximately £0.75 million (this figure assumes Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) will accept the provision of the existing sub-standard sized changing units in the year preceding promotion, though there is no guarantee they will do so).
“Of this £750k figure, approximately £400k would be for facilities that could be used as part of the long-term, permanent stadium, with the remaining £350k for facilities hired in for the short-term facility and being of no benefit to the development of the long-term, permanent stadium.”
Concluding Mr O’Hagan noted: “There is clearly a significant financial risk to council in that some of the proposed expenditure could be nugatory. The nugatory spend would involve the cost of that equipment hired in to provide quick temporary facilities but which would not form part of the long-term permanent stadium project, currently estimated at approximately £350k. Council could be seen to have undertaken nugatory spend if Strabane Athletic were not promoted to the championship for the 19/20 Intermediate season yet council would have invested significant funding on hired facilities on the basis that the football club were going to get promoted.”
Urging councillors to further investigate the proposal before voting on it independent councillor, Paul Gallager suggested a site meeting involving councillors, representatives of Strabane Athletic, and the NIFL should take place as a matter of urgency.
He explained that some of the other issues such as parking etc, which may pose a problem for NIFL/IFA have already been resolved and he added, “The football club has quotes for some of this work already and they are a lot cheaper than suggested here. Additionally some of this work can come off the capital budget anyway. We should have the site meeting and talk about how the proposals fit with NIFL and with the club, and see if it’s possible we can meet the necessary timeframe.”
Cllr Gallagher’s proposal was seconded by independent councillor, Patsy Kelly, who added, “Renting stuff is a waste of money, if the moveable models could be taken and used at other events in the district it would be better if they were council owned.”
Sinn Féin’s Brian McMahon also supported the idea of a site meeting. He added, “We could go ahead and put as much money as possible into it, but if it doesn’t meet the IFA criteria then it is no use.”
Derek Hussey, UUP, agreed saying “The IFA really are the kingpins in all of this”.
He explained that it is a major project and there are other stakeholders to consider as well, including Sion ladies who play premiership football on the site. He also said if this support is forthcoming to one club, other organisations may ask for similar investment.