Mason Ainsworth believes the city could score with pandemic-weary city residents by creating a skating rink at Tudhope Park this winter.
The Ward 3 councillor was able to get his colleagues onside to vote in favour of a staff report that would investigate the feasibility and costs of operating a rink at the popular park.
Ainsworth said multiple people have contacted him, warning “more skating rinks across our community.”
More than one suggested Tudhope Park.
“With COVID this year, a lot of folks aren’t travelling and they want to be more active in the community so I thought it would be logical,” said Ainsworth.
“We have one at Couchiching (Beach Park), we have a few others, but not one in that general
vicinity,” said Ainsworth, adding a staff report would be a “good opportunity to get information about the idea, costs etc.”
He’s hoping staff can act quickly and prepare a report with potential options prior to the onset of winter.
The question is, should a rink be contemplated for the lake or ground.
“I expect land is an easier, safer option, but I’m not an ice technician and don’t know the details which is why I am asking for the report,” said Ainsworth, adding both options are on the table.
Andrew Schell, the city’s general manager of environmental and infrastructure services, said he would try to put together some options.
He said staff “took a quick look at it … (and) there will definitely be some challenges at Tudhope,” referencing water supply issues and staffing concerns.
“Ultimately, we've had some issues with staffing due to the fact our parks facilities staff are actually coverage staff for our facilities, so quite often if staff are on vacation or off sick in the facilities, we end up calling parks people who are actually our rink personnel,” explained Schell.
“So some of that will definitely be challenging,” he said, noting additional staffing would be required for the rink.
He said a rink on the lake is not as easy as people think. Two winters ago, one of the city’s vehicles went through the ice while working on the rink on Lake Couchiching.
“It is a health and safety issue for putting our staff out there, so we have to be cognizant of that,” said Schell.
“Obviously, if we have frozen ice and it’s good quality, it certainly makes” things easier.
But due to the freeze-thaw trend of recent winters, it’s likely “easier to put it on a harder packed surface than on the lake itself.”
Coun. Tim Lauer said the city should take a different approach. He thinks the city should consider hiring private contractors, which could prove more nimble, use lighter equipment and likely would face less stringent regulations.
“I think our biggest enemy with regard to lake ice is our health and safety issues,” noted Lauer, who said he understands why the city doesn’t “want to put heavy equipment on the ice.”
Independent contractors would take the load off staff, said Lauer.
“I think our biggest issue here is staffing time. Certainly, the other rinks have suffered in the past” because staff had other priorities.
“I think we might find we might be able to put a whole series of rinks along (Lake Couchiching),” said Lauer. “I really believe these outdoor activities are going to be very popular this winter and are the kinds of things we should take a few extra steps and make a bit of more of an effort to get that done.”
A report from staff will be presented at a future meeting of council.
Typically, each winter, city staff create and maintain outdoor rinks at Couchiching Beach Park, First Baptist Church, Hillcrest Park, Homewood Park, Kitchener Park, Clayt French Park and the Murray Street Park.