Council has authorized interim measures to get the city’s user groups back on the ice at Rotary Place by early in the new year.
At a special meeting of council late Monday afternoon, city politicians approved spending up to $425,000 to enter into an agreement with CIMCO Refrigeration to install a temporary refrigeration system for up to 18 months as the city explores long-term solutions to issues related to the arena's cooling tower.
Funding for the refrigeration system will come from the city’s tax rate stabilization reserve, which is used to “offset extraordinary, unforeseen one-time pressures,” said city staff.
A recent Legionella outbreak in Orillia was traced to Rotary Place’s cooling tower; a similar outbreak in 2019 was also traced to the cooling tower at the west Orillia arena. As a result of the most recent issues, the city decided, on Nov. 8, to shut down the rinks in an effort to find the root of the issue. (See our story about that decision here.)
This year’s outbreak comes on top of a recent heat exchanger issue that initially shuttered Rotary Place in early October, which itself comes after extended shutdowns through the pandemic.
Steve Fagan, president of Orillia Minor Hockey, said the city’s house league programs have been particularly hard hit by closures at Rotary Place.
“We have lost quite a lot of members … and that's all in our house league,” Fagan said ahead of Monday’s council meeting. “They are being turned off … because they're not getting to play hockey, so they're not falling in love with it or enjoying it, and we're losing them to other sports before they even give us a try.”
Estimates for repairing or refurbishing Rotary Place’s refrigeration system came in at 12-18 months, noted a staff report, and numerous members of council stressed the importance of getting the city’s user groups back on the ice.
“What we're talking about here is a potential two-season closure. If we get into an 18-month order timeline on the new machine, then we're talking about hockey, figure skating, being eliminated for two years,” said Coun. Tim Lauer.
“In the interim, this keeps those sports going for a guaranteed two years, and to me that's imperative," Lauer said.
“It's obviously essential that we get families and organizations back on the ice and enjoying the arena, so I can appreciate that (city staff) put this together, and you've worked hard to do that, and I'm excited to stand with this,” said Coun. Whitney Smith.
Staff explored three options to get the ice back in at Rotary Place, which also included short-term modifications to the current cooling system, as well as moving to synthetic and refrigerated outdoor ice surface systems, but said the most appropriate, cost-friendly and timely solution was to rent equipment from CIMCO Refrigeration.
“Ultimately, to have ice in (by) January, we need to proceed with this option,” said Andrew Schell, the city's general manager of environment and infrastructure services.
Coun. Ralph Cipolla expressed concern at the potential bill for the interim system, wondering whether the city might be able to purchase such a system for a similar cost.
“$425,000 just for a lease is not appropriate for the taxpayers of this community, so I'm not (in favour of) a lease, even though I fully support opening (Rotary Place),” he said. “That kind of money is not appropriate, and it's only going to last 18 months.”
Staff later clarified that there is a seven-day cancellation period for the contract, should the city not require the full 18 months, at no additional cost.
Coun. Jay Fallis questioned whether the interim system would pose risks for the spread of Legionella.
“This temporary solution relies on air dry source refrigeration, so it eliminates the risk of Legionella from the refrigeration system,” said Renee Recoskie, the city's manager of property and environmental sustainability.
Council will discuss potential long-term solutions at its Dec. 7 meeting.
The Orillia Hawks Girls Tournament, which brings in girls hockey teams from across Ontario, is scheduled for Jan. 13-15, around the time staff anticipate getting Rotary Place's ice pads operational.
It is anticipated that the blue pad ice surface will be available to user groups and the public the first week of January, 2023.
City staff will then focus on installing the green pad ice surface by mid-January of 2023.