Fort St. John slashes maintenance of outdoor ice surfaces

"I think this is a worthy expense in regards to community health, keeping a readily available free activity for youth and all members alike," reasoned Councillor Dan Davies.

The City currently takes care of four outdoor skating surfaces: Bert Bowes School Track, CM Finch Hockey Rink, Kin Park Hockey Rink and Mathews Park Skating Surface. If the City were to continue to look after the four rinks, the proposed budget for 2012 would be almost $40,000 for minimal service.

As such, City staff say the level of maintenance at this time is not sufficient, and poses a risk for the City. City Manager Dianne Hunter argued, "We're very nervous about the quality and the care on our outdoor rinks," in comparison to the indoor ones.

This difference is explained as due to increased requests for service in other sectors, including changes to snow clearing procedures, adding all season trails and maintaining sidewalks. In comparison, no requests were made for ice surface maintenance last year.

Adding to the troubles, only two of the ice rinks are on City property; the other two are on School District 60 property, and the School District doesn't fund any of the maintenance costs. The City has been maintaining the rink at CM Finch since it was built approximately 10 years ago, and since the completion of the Pomeroy Sport Centre has only flooded half of the Bert Bowes track without reasonable maintenance.

SD60 staff stopped maintaining outdoor ice rinks approximately 15 years ago, and as Hunter says, "the School District has indicated they are not going to expend any funds on the ice arenas," adding, "they've been very clear on that." Furthermore, the City does not actually have an agreement with the School Board giving it access to their properties, adding to the risk.

So the decision was made to only service one rink, in Kin Park, and to invite the School Board, as well as any interested parties, to have a discussion about the rinks on their property.

"We've got the Pomeroy Sport Centre at a buck and a quarter for two hours; I think that's bases covered," argued Councillor Trevor Bolin, adding he hopes that Bert Bowes and CM Finch's Parent Advisory Council's will take on their own ice. There was also talk of reaching out to community groups who would be interested in taking on the other rinks.

At this point, the City doesn't have an estimate for the costs of maintaining just the one ice surface. Don Demers, Director of Public Works and Utilities, pointed out that the initial flooding take two weeks, as well as two equipment operators, adding up to around 80 man hours as well as the cost of equipment. After flooding, surfaces also require daily inspections.

The original budget proposal was for a minimal level of service at all four rinks, so Hunter says they will track the costs of properly maintaining one and have the details for the following year's budget.

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