By Trevor Busch
Taber Recreation Board has requested administration conduct a survey of arena user groups to determine if there is a need for a second large ice surface for the community.
Several groups were on hand at the board’s October meeting to see the progress the board had made into looking into three options of direct replacement of the small ice, expanding the current building north to allow for a switch from a small ice to regulation ice, or a new separate building for a regulation-sized rink that is joined by a corridor.
At the October meeting, user groups were asked to discuss the potential for a second large ice surface with their boards, but a framework for that discussion was not provided.
At the board’s Nov. 2 regular meeting, Chair Danielle Hansen was requesting discussion regarding ice arena user groups and feedback from the members of the board.
“I felt it necessary that the next time that we have the user groups come, that we have some direction. Some questions in place, so that we are getting the information that we want from them. Basically, we need to first find out if there’s even a need for a large ice, or whether they’re happy with the small ice and it just needs some repair.”
Each option carries hefty price tags with the replacement of the small ice being estimated at $1.51 million, up to the third option of a new separate arena costing an estimated $6.96 million.
“That was the one option that was substantially less money, just to repair it,” said board member Joel Mills.
The current issues plaguing the small ice arena leave the facility with an estimated remaining shelf life of between five to 10 years.
“We did hear from them that they were happy with the small ice — there were some groups that were fine with the small ice, it actually worked well for them,” continued Hansen at the Nov. 2 meeting. “But then they also showed an interest in a large ice. Another question that we had for them, too, was they’ve been paying a small ice user fee amount. They wouldn’t be paying a small ice user fee if they had a large ice, would that affect them? Taber Minor Hockey, they have from a certain age down — a new mandate — they actually have to play the smaller ice. So the small ice was good, but they had said they could see a large ice becoming usable, too, because then they would just separate, with two teams going instead of just one.”
Hansen also pointed out that the board needs to have a good grasp on the numbers of users from each user group to determine trends that might impact their decision.
“Unfortunately not all of the user groups were able to come (in October). We had thought about maybe putting out a survey that they could take back to their user groups that would have some questions that would help us. And if their numbers are going down, a large ice might not necessarily help out that problem.”
One of two council representatives to the rec board, Coun. Louie Tams was in favour of moving forward with a survey as quickly as possible.
“If you’re looking at all these user groups, and you bring them in and give you the feedback, and then you talk about having a survey now — and I think that having a survey would be ideal, because you can get it to all of them. They can take it to their individual groups, and have a good conversation about it. You need to have that survey done and sent through to a committee like that with one mandate, to come with a recommendation to the rec board. What’s your plans, what are you going to look like in the future, what are you thinking? Demographics is going to dictate certain things, the size of your town will dictate certain things, and all of those things are going to come back into play. If it goes to one committee, the rec board would have a clear vision about just what they’re doing with that ice surface, rather than trying to bring in every user group. Because everybody’s going to look at it as what’s good for them, what’s good for my group. What’s good for figure skating is going to be different than what’s good for minor hockey.”
Re-developing the Small Ice Arena was identified in the town’s Recreation Master Plan, and was ranked ninth out of 16 facilities to be upgraded or redeveloped. The small ice arena is approximately 40 years old with noted various aspects of the rink that are in visibly poor condition which present operational/safety issues. There is an access ramp that is too steep to serve as a fire egress according to current building codes. A gate at the east end, when opened, blocks access to the fire exit from the spectator stands. Also, there is insufficient current fire alarm systems, and there are dasher boards which are not constructed to current guidelines for full-contact hockey at the small arena.
“I think you get a way clearer picture when you get more minds in it, there’s no question,” continued Tams. “Some of it has to be the financial cost. But for user groups is it really what they need? We’ve heard about the second ice surface in the Town of Taber for over three years, we’ve been talking about it for years. But is it really what we need? I think once all the user groups say this is what we need, we’ll have a clear direction where we have to go.”
According to administration, a survey could be sent to the user groups to assist them with that discussion as well as a method to provide written feedback.
“There’s no doubt if you put out a survey that asks the user groups ‘what do you wish?’ The wish is going to come: build us a new big arena,” said Coun. Garth Bekkering. “That’s just a given. The problem being that there’s a huge difference between the $1.5 million to repair the small arena, and the $5.5 million to build a new arena. I do believe that it is urgent at this time that we proceed as quick as possible with something. The small ice rink is a shame. Something has to be done, one way or another.”
The physical condition of the existing dasher boards are in poor condition, with cracking visible in the board throughout, and gaps in the boards near the corners and gates according to an MPE report. The corners of the boards have too small of a radius for the Zamboni machine to flood along the boards, resulting in patches in the corner that must be flooded by hand. The concrete slab for the ice surface is cracked in several places and is not level, requiring the difference to be made up with thicker ice. There are also many locations where the surface of the slab has been worn down and the rebar and slab cooling piping are exposed.
“We’ve heard from a good chunk of the users already,” said board member Rene Angermeier. “The talk is out there now, hanging out at the arena, people are talking about the possibility of a new arena, so I think I like the idea of us putting that survey out. Everyone is going to say let’s build a new arena. That’s going to be the first choice. So what are we doing? Ultimately we’re making a recommendation to council, the rec board is recommending this option, and the finances is up to them, ultimately.”
Mills sought clarification on whether the Small Ice Arena’s current condition was a more immediate threat.
“If it is a matter of safety, if it’s getting to the point where it’s unsafe, is not doing anything still going to be an option?”
Recreation director Aline Holmen suggested the facility was still safe, but issues could arise in the near future.
“If it was truly unsafe, we wouldn’t leave it open. There is potential, for sure, for safety.”
Recreation manager Trent Smith argued safety wasn’t the only consideration.
“Safe or not, if it does shift enough, we lose a line underneath — how big of a user group mess is there to deal with? I know that small ice is rented quite a bit.”
Although any final recommendation is still being weighed by the rec board, representative Darcy Firth noted that expectations in the community — real or imagined — were already high.
“What are their expectations of the arena? I’ve talked to a few people, too, and there’s already talk around that this is going to be the biggest, newest thing Taber has, our feature item, and that’s where all the hockey is going to be played. I know the drawings are preliminary, but there’s less seating — the place we have now is still going to be it. But the public out there already thinks that if we build this, it’s going to be the main surface. They’re expecting a lot.”
Mills pondered if the board might already be putting the cart before the horse.
“If we do a survey, and everybody says we want a new big ice surface, are all of those options — the $1 million repair, the $3 million — are all of those options feasible, or are some not even feasible? Because if some of them aren’t even feasible, is it a use even talking about it?”
Holmen outlined that Mills’ inquiry might be jumping the gun.
“I don’t even think that’s relevant right now. I think first you have to decide if it’s something we even need, and if we do, then look at options.”
The Taber Recreation Board voted unanimously to request administration conduct a survey of ice arena user groups regarding feedback on the utilization of the ice surfaces.
Following open discussion at the meeting on Nov. 2, a Small Ice Arena Committee was discussed in camera “to prevent disclosure of advice from officials” in accordance with Sec. 24 (1)(F) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. During the in camera portion of a public meeting, members of the general public, including the media, are barred from witnessing or participating in the proceedings or discussion, although all subsequent resolutions must be made in open session.