By Greg Price
The results are in from a survey sent out to ice user groups regarding three options available in response to the deteriorating state of the small ice surface.
Overall feedback pointed to renovating the existing small ice surface as opposed to other options involving creating a second large ice surface at the Taber ice arena.
“We don’t have any of the younger groups being peewee, bantam, midget. If it (the small ice) were to become a large ice surface, we would partake in it a lot more with more practices, longer practices, games, whatever. But if it’s not viable, it’s just not viable,” said Ryan Haynes, a representative for the Taber Golden Suns Athletic Association at the Taber Recreation Board’s Dec. 7 meeting.
Various ice user groups were invited back to the recreation board’s December meeting to discuss the survey findings and also get any further opinions before making any recommendation to council on what direction to go in.
A study was sanctioned by MPE Engineering earlier this year showing exactly how much in disrepair the small ice arena was in which is approximately 40 years old.
Building code, safety, program space, equipment condition and operational issues were all identified.
Three options were presented including direct replacement, expanding the current building north to allow for regulation size and having a whole new separate building for a regulation-sized rink.
Replacing the small ice came in at a price tag of $1.51 million with the other two options costing approximately $5.04 and $6.96 million respectively.
“The thing with adding a second large ice surface, and I know it’s hard for me telling you this with the numbers that we have in minor hockey. But the struggles we are having in minor hockey — and I’m sure Ryan would echo this — with the ‘AA’s is condensing all those practices we have to cram into a week,” said Justin Fletcher, president of Taber Minor Hockey. “We’ve got kids with 10 p.m. practices or later with (town) kids where as long as they are local they are still getting to bed at around 11:30 at night. But for the ‘AA’ program with 10 p.m. practices, you got kids coming from as far away as Foremost up to Lomond and you are going to have troubles attracting kids to that program with that type of travel late at night. Another large ice surface would be operating better practice times and longer ice times using the ice more efficiently.”
The second ice surface would also open up the possibility of hosting tournaments at each of the three age levels in ‘AA’ hockey along with various other tournaments with Taber Minor Hockey.
Numerous competitions could also be held with the Taber Figure Skating Club that draws out of towners.
“But if it’s not economically feasible, we would still be happy with a small ice renovation,” said Fletcher.
Recreation board member and town councillor Garth Bekkering inquired about what the current usage rates were with the existing facilities.
“Between minor hockey and the Golden Suns, they typically go until about 11 p.m. from Monday to Thursday (practices). On Friday nights and Saturday nights there are games until about 11 p.m. Sunday, the commercial league goes until about 10 p.m.,” said Aline Holmen, director of recreation for the Town of Taber. “Where it is mostly sitting empty is during the day when kids have school.”
If the small ice were to fail, minor and Golden Suns hockey noted they would have to rent ice elsewhere like Vauxhall with figure skating noting they would have to cut back programming. Given estimated time frames, renovating the small ice arena would not disrupt any programming according to Holmen with work being done in the hockey/figure skating offseason.
While the Taber Recreation Board still has not officially made a recommendation to town council, board member and councillor Garth Bekkering noted some caution has to be made. While no option would likely be immediate, it would depend on how the financial winds are blowing at the time.
“We’ve all seen the options presented by the engineer, there is no doubt that Option #2 is the best option (expanding current building north) if you take away the numbers. But unfortunately, the numbers play a very, very important role in all this. Comparing $1.5 million to do a proper renovation of the small ice arena to a second large ice at $5 million with a difference of $3.5 million,” said Bekkering. “As a council, we sure wouldn’t want to put any false hopes into the user groups and say ‘wait four years and you’ll get one.’ It’s probably unrealistic and too pragmatic. At least from my perspective, it’s not in the cards right now. The renovation of the small ice rink I would really, really support.”
The recreation board agreed in unison, if the small ice were to be renovated, any thoughts of building a second large ice arena would be pushed back by years. And as MPE Engineering noted in its presentation earlier this year to the recreation board, there is the urgency of now give the condition of the small ice surface.
Estimations for the life expectancy for the small ice have been pegged within five years, but that has been the best-case scenario as MPE officials noted the small ice arena could fail much earlier than that.
“I would not suggest that (doing nothing about the small ice). Murphy’s Law is the plant is not going to blow up at the end of April when you are close to being done with it. You are going to have an issue in September and October,” said Fletcher. “The kids that use that small ice for us are the young kids who are trying to get started in the game. If they were to have a rough season early on that they had to travel to Vauxhall or somewhere else for practices and games, chances are we are going to lose a lot of kids form that. At least with a small ice arena renovation where you had proper boards and things like that, some of our older groups could utilize that for practice time.”