PUSLINCH – Council here is leaning strongly towards opening the Optimist Recreation Centre ice rink in Aberfoyle this winter, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In my mind this facility shall be opened this year,” said Mayor James Seeley.
A staff report at the Nov. 4 meeting suggested following in the steps of neighbouring municipalities if council chose to open the rink and only rent it to local minor hockey groups and youth sports organizations.
However, there would be no washrooms or change rooms available.
“Some municipalities are reducing hours, some are not opening at all and some that had put things into motion to open up and have the ice ready are actually looking at closing down early because the requested rentals that they received have actually gone down and not come in as they expected,” said CAO Glenn Schwendinger.
Municipalities are allowing sports organizations that are part of national or provincial associations to use the facilities because COVID-19 protocol enforcement falls on the league or organization if more than 25 participants attend.
The responsibility falls on the facility or organizer for other rentals or users with less than 25 people.
“The reality is that municipalities don’t have the resources to do that,” Schwendinger said. “And that puts the risk and liability on the municipalities.
“They’re trying to limit obviously the risk of transmission and exposure.”
In Puslinch, minor sports only account for about two per cent of ice rentals and about 25% of renters are actually from Puslinch.
Schwendinger also indicated the township would likely need to hire security just in case people become upset with the COVID-19 protocols.
“And that would obviously come at an additional cost,” he said, suggesting it could cost about $2,400 per week.
Councillors received the report an hour or two before the meeting, so no one was ready to make a decision.
Seeley was visibly upset by the possibility of not opening the ice rink.
“I’m trying to keep my composure,” he said.
“I’m a little upset that we’re judge, jury and executioner on people before they’ve even done anything.”
The mayor added, “We’ve been renting this facility to kids with roller blades and there hasn’t been any issues, there hasn’t been any fights, there hasn’t been $2,400 a week in security required.”
Councillor Matthew Bulmer asked if a third party agreement could be considered.
He knows of someone who runs a minor sports league and said they would be willing to rent the facility and manage it.
“They have no issues renting it and managing it on our behalf because they have the expertise and have been doing it,” said Bulmer.
“If there were enough people to have a house league here that’s fine, otherwise they’d just bring their other programs here … and accommodate free skates and community rentals.”
Seeley also took issue with the direction to limit rentals to minor sports organizations, as that excludes youths who aren’t part of a league.
Councillor Sarah Bailey agreed, adding youths who are part of minor hockey are getting ice time elsewhere.
“We need to make this ice available for the kids that are not registered in those programs that want to just put on some skates and skate around and play outside,” she said.
Bulmer said the third party agreement could be a vehicle to bring additional programming to the township at a time of crisis.
“If that works out that could be a long-term benefit to both and end up bringing programs to our community that we don’t have,” he said.
“So I’m not willing to call the day on closing the facility just yet.”
Bailey also suggested creating online registration for skaters to better control the number of people using the rink.
She also suggested a sibling skate after school, as parents are already encouraged to park at the community centre for school pickup and the rink nearby.
Councillor Jessica Goyda said she would like to see the facility open.
“I realize that … we have to take some precautions to limit the spread and risk of COVID-19,” she said.
“But at the same time, we’re entering the wintertime when people are going to be even more so stuck at home … and this facility provides that one little escape that, like the mayor said, it’s a gem.”
However, Goyda added she doesn’t want to open the facility if it means raising taxes in the future to cover operational costs.
“I really don’t know what the right answer is right now and I perhaps would agree with councillor Bulmer,” she said, adding, “I just feel like there’s too many pieces of the puzzle missing for me to make that decision.”
Councillor John Sepulis also said more information is required.
One of his main concerns is the risk to the municipality involved in opening the facility to the public.
“If we don’t have the proper controls in place and something does happen, I’d like to understand what the risks are to the township,” said Sepulis.
He too asked for more information about the cost of opening the facility.
Schwendinger said it wasn’t staff’s objective to make it seem like they were suggesting shutting the facility down.
“I believe we got a good strong message from you today that it seems like the intent is to continue on as much as possible with what we’ve got and I do apologize for the timing of the report,” he said.
“It’s just coming close to the season … when staff would be getting prepared to put the ice in, so we needed to get some direction and we haven’t had this discussion with council. So this was very helpful.”
Council asked staff to bring a report back on Nov. 18 with more details on opening the Optimist Recreation Centre ice rink this season and keeping it accessible to the whole community.
“Staff will then proceed with preparations for getting ice ready for whatever that use will be,” Schwendinger said.
“We’ll just start preparing for that; obviously we’re not going to do it in this warm weather, but at least organize and start planning for that when that time would come…”