Puslinch considers curtains to improve conditions at Optimist Recreation Centre rink

PUSLINCH – Council here is looking to improve the year-round usability of the Optimist Recreation Centre ice rink in Aberfoyle.

Director of public works, parks and facilities Mike Fowler made a presentation to council on Nov. 4 proposing to install curtains on the west and north sides of the arena.

In the spring, the Optimist Club of Puslinch arranged an inspection of existing equipment and infrastructure at the rink to explore whether an upgrade of the power plant and chiller was needed to make the ice surface more consistent throughout the season.

However, the study determined ice failure is primarily due to weather conditions, not infrastructure issues.

In the study, the mechanical operator said the use of curtains to keep the elements out would be beneficial, even if mechanical upgrades go ahead.

The mechanical upgrades were estimated at $118,600 and the Optimist Club was willing to donate $70,000.

The township also received quotes on curtains for the west and north sides of the arena.

The south side was not included because facility staff determined it was not as impacted by high winds and the elements.

Fowler said the township received a quote from a supplier for about $25,000 for the full curtain system.

The curtains, a fabric composite of woven polyester, would run from the roof to the ground.

“The vendor has indicated that the fabric alone will do the job,” Fowler said.

The top of the curtain would be mesh to allow for airflow, but would be too high to impact the ice surface.

“When you want to engage them you pull two across, secure them to the ground and to each other and when you’re done they would retract back, tuck in against the … four girders, and they would be out of sight, out of mind,” Fowler said.

“I’m quite enthusiastic about this proposal.

“I feel that this is a very good start for the township to try and establish a consistent ice where we can attract more rentals, especially league play.”

Councillor Matthew Bulmer pointed out the curtains would benefit more than just the ice rink.

Having been part of the Aberfoyle Farmers’ Market for a number of years, he said having curtains available would help vendors on rainy and windy days.

“If we had wind and rain it was not uncommon for the rain to come in 10 feet, maybe more, and possibly damaging vendors’ products, which often made it difficult for the market to attract vendors,” Bulmer said.

“I think this will certainly extend their season or help them attract vendors through October.”

Bulmer also indicated the facility could close down the use of the arena if staff thinks rain is making the floor too slippery.

The curtains, he said, would help guarantee renters can use the facility for their scheduled time. Similarly, the curtains would help keep the floor dry if there was a rain event overnight.

“If this can help improve … the safety of the facility, too, I think that’s a benefit,” Bulmer said.

“I expect the same thing would apply to others … in the summer time who would benefit from having these curtains there.”

Councillor Jessica Goyda said she also likes the multi-functional use of the curtains.

“I’m definitely in support of that if it will help improve the rent-ability of the facility,” she said.

“That being said … if the $25,000 is going to result in an increased tax levy, I don’t know that this is the year to be doing it.”

However, she added, “if it can be funded through a reserve without impacting future commitments, then I think it’s a worthwhile investment.”

Director of finance Mary Hassan said there is plenty of money in the cash-in-lieu of parkland restricted reserve to fund the project.

Councillor Sarah Bailey asked if the curtains could be deployed partway through a rental, for example, if it starts to rain part way through or if the sun gets in users’ eyes.

“Yes,” Fowler said. “All it takes is the renter to identify the facility operator at the time, whether it be a full-time or one of our part-time students.

“They’ll engage the curtain until the renters are happy and if it requires it to be opened up again within half an hour, the facility attendant will do that.”

Councillor John Sepulis put forward a motion that the curtain installation only proceed if there is a skating season this winter.

At the same meeting on Nov. 4, council discussed whether to open the rink at all throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

They asked staff to come back to the Nov. 20 meeting with a report on how the municipality could safely open the arena to the public.

After discussion surrounding how the curtains could be used all four seasons, council decided to give pre-budget approval, funded through the cash-in-lieu parkland restricted reserve, subject to the availability of ice in the 2020-21 season.

Staff will also come back with a report about the potential benefit of the arena curtains for other programs that can use the facility during the spring, summer and fall.