The arena facility in Markdale. Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Grey Highlands council will at least consider the possibility of decommissioning one of its four ice surfaces.

At its committee of the whole meeting on July 31, council voted 4-3 in favour of a pair of resolutions that will see the municipality consider decommissioning at least one of its four ice surfaces and explore options for repurposing an ice-free arena building for other recreation activities.

Council made the decisions after a lengthy discussion that, at times, featured some tense moments.

Ultimately, Deputy Mayor Dane Nielsen and councillors Nadia Dubyk, Joel Loughead and Paul Allen voted in favour of the two resolutions. The arena resolutions (along with other committee decisions made at the meeting) still have to come to a full council meeting for final approval.

The new Recreation Master Plan suggested Grey Highlands look at the possibility of reducing the number of ice surfaces it operates. The municipality has ice rinks in Markdale, Flesherton, Feversham and Rocklyn. The decommissioning resolution did not identify any specific facility that would be considered for such a move.

A recent building condition assessment report suggests that Grey Highlands is facing steep future maintenance costs for its multitude of arenas.

“I do believe we need to have a serious conversation around ice surfaces,” said Nielson. “Failing to consider (that option) is a disservice.”

Dubyk said she supported the resolution because of the word “consider.” She said council should look at the option, but also involve all the community stakeholders in the conversation.

“We do need to take a sober look at our infrastructure and our ice surfaces,” said Dubyk. “The communities of these arenas need to be part of that discussion.”

Coun. Tom Allwood disagreed and said he has not heard from any citizens in favour of any arena losing its ice surface.

“Nobody is in favour of closing any of our facilities,” said Allwood. “If the ratepayers want these arenas – and that’s what I’ve heard – we need to identify the costs and let them know how much it will cost to keep them open.”

Allwood said council should be focused on formulating a plan to continue operating and maintaining its arena infrastructure.

Coun. Dan Wickens said council would not be following the wishes of the community if it decided to decommission an ice surface.

“Nobody that I talk to wants to close down any ice surfaces. Period,” said Wickens.

Coun. Paul Allen pointed out that the four arenas were seeing approximately 65 – 69 per cent of available ice time booked each year. He said if one ice surface was removed, there was capacity at other facilities to meet needs. Allen also worried that with costs rising and four arenas to look after, that council may one day face the possibility of an arena closure being forced upon council by other circumstances.

“At some point, if we can’t afford to maintain our four arenas properly, we’re going to end up like Chatsworth with something condemned,” he said.

Both Allen and Nielsen said there is an upside to the possibility of an arena without an ice surface being repurposed into an indoor recreation facility of some kind.

“There are lots of benefits to having an indoor facility the size of an arena in our community,” said Allen.

Coun. Joel Loughead said he was hearing the same comments from the public as Allwood, but also said council needed to consider all the factors and possibilities before making a decision.

“I did hear quite clearly from our ratepayers that they’re not in favour of closing any arenas,” said Loughead. “There is a big picture of facts and data to consider here. We certainly need to have this conversation. There is a lot to investigate here.”

Mayor Paul McQueen said the focus should be to increase the number of users at the facilities. He said the municipality should investigate the possibility of new forms of minor hockey to increase usage at the arenas.

“They were built to host ice surfaces. The community built those facilities,” said McQueen, who added that all members of council had “heard loud and clear” during the election last fall that the public wants the facilities to remain open and operating as ice rinks.

By Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 01, 2023 at 11:00

This item reprinted with permission from   Collingwood, Ontario
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