City of Powell River councillors received an appeal for two sheets of ice in Powell River Recreation Complex, as opposed to the one that is now operating.
At the October 5 committee of the whole meeting, Randy Ciarniello spoke to councillors advocating for the second ice sheet in the recreation complex to be opened.
“The ice is obviously not on the rink,” said Ciarniello. “I looked into it and the reason is the upper foyer has been leased to the health authority and that took the fall programs that would normally be up there and displaced them. They needed that rink surface for their fall dryland programs.”
Ciarniello said there are programs and people using the rink but it’s not being used to the extent it would be if the ice was in the rink.
He said he connected with director of parks, recreation and culture Tara O’Donnell.
“She asked me the question: should we have not signed the lease with the health authority?” said Ciarniello. “Absolutely, we should have. Public safety is number one, above everything.
“She then asked: should we cancel our fall program? Absolutely not. My thing is solutions. Can any of these programs move to other city buildings, or facilities we all generously gave tax exemptions to, that are great facilities. Will they work with us?”
Ciarniello said an example of a program using the rink was pickleball, which the tennis club has space for, as well as Oceanview Education Centre.
He said the city attempted to remove the rink permanently years ago as a cost saving and councillor CaroleAnn Leishman headed up a big pushback. He said the city didn’t need to revisit that.
“We know everyone wants the rink,” said Ciarniello. “The reason I’m here is because the scheduling issues between user groups with one sheet of ice is tough. They are making it work.”
He said, however, with one sheet of ice, it’s challenging to make it work.
“The one sheet really limits what we can do,” he added.
Ciarniello said he thinks that minor hockey will lose players with the schedule that’s in place.
“We need to get these kids active, get them all there and keep them there,” said Ciarniello. “I know it is going to be challenging and I don’t want any ill-feelings between user groups. If we can get this on sooner, we are going to keep a lot more kids coming to the rink.”
Chief administrative officer Russell Brewer said the rink is intended to have ice in the beginning of December.
“The intent is, all else being equal, by next year, we’ll be back to some semblance of normalcy, given the pandemic,” said Brewer. “We’ll go back to a normal schedule with ice going in and opening at the beginning of December.”
Councillor Jim Palm said it was a difficult situation and he appreciated Ciarniello appearing before councillors to inform them of setbacks being produced as a consequence of the ice not being in the rink.
Palm said it’s a matter of scheduling, where the recreation department has committed to user groups for a time period.
“It’s for another month and the ice goes in,” said Palm. “We run into winter wonderland and hockey still can’t use it until the new year. With this pandemic, I feel sorry for the parents and the youth of our community because it has affected them greatly over the past two years.
“We know what a character builder and positive reinforcer our sports are in the lives of our youth. That’s why I have a great deal of difficulty with the situation we find ourselves in, where we have programs that don’t utilize that ice surface. It saddens me that the surface is not being utilized to benefit and to bring teams and sporting events to our fine community.
“My hands are tied and I have to listen to staff. They have made certain decisions and they are not going to change the scheduling since they’ve made a commitment to the user groups.”
Committee chair councillor Rob Southcott said three young men in his family, his two nephews and his son, benefited from the hockey program very much in ways he cannot quantify. He said he appreciated all the points Ciarniello made. He said sometimes, the city has to compromise, but this is a tough situation.
O’Donnell said she and Ciarniello had a good conversation and talked about the items he had brought to the committee. She said the recreation complex has a smaller amount of space, due to the COVID-19 clinic, and more demand than ever. She said there have been challenges offering programming where it is normally offered.
“You can imagine that whittles down our available space quite a bit,” said O’Donnell. “I understand the frustration. This all boils down to it being temporary.”
She said she believes it was the right decision to have the COVID-19 clinic in the recreation complex, but hopefully, it is temporary.
“We have ice going to be produced here in weeks,” said O’Donnell. “We’ll have ice available as Mr. Brewer has mentioned come early December.”
O’Donnell said recreation staff met with user groups in May of this year and explained the situation. She asked, given the constraints, could they make this work?
“Everyone had to walk away compromising, but it was for the greater good of the community,” said O’Donnell. “I don’t think anyone feels like a winner here but we made the best decision we think, that is most cost-effective, with the most community benefit. I believe my staff worked really hard to put these plans in place.
“Now, we just have a couple of weeks left to go with our fall programming, which is coming to an end. Hopefully, we will not have to deal with this inconvenience much longer.”
Palm said cost effectiveness is not the reason the ice hasn’t gone in yet, or he would be in council chambers “pounding on the desk.”
“There are reserve funds that are COVID-19-related that we could utilize,” said Palm. “Cost effective is not the answer I was looking for. It’s the commitment to other groups and that’s why our hands are tied.”