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Town council to examine ice rink re-opening plans

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A report that will make its way to council next week is highlighting the two options the town is considering when it comes to reopening ice time at the Memorial Sports Centre.

In a report prepared by town manager of recreation and culture Aaron Bisson, two options are detailed in regards to offering ice time to the various groups and users that would traditionally reserve and make use of the arenas. The first option would see the town booking out two hours of ice time for every 50 minute time block, which would also require the users to pay for the extra time. Factoring in reserved blocks and associated cleaning time, the report suggests that the arenas could offer 58 time slots during peak times this year, which are evenings and weekends. In 2019, the Memorial Sports Centre generated $209,471 of revenue with 82.75 peak hours along with 16.5 hours of day or off peak time per week.

“Under this scenario the cost to the organizations will essentially double,” the report reads.

“The user groups have indicated that they will not be able to operate under those circumstances as the financial burden would be too high.”

According to the document, the arena requires 15 minutes on each side of a booking to clean, sanitize and prepare the ice surface and related areas for a new group of users. This time is accounted for by offsetting the bookings between the 52 Canadians and Ice For Kids arenas by 30 minutes, ensuring that different groups wouldn't be running into each other.

In order to accommodate this new schedule and the related cleaning time, the report suggests to council that extra staff would need to be hired, which in turn would drive up the budget needed for reopening.

“This additional staff will be an increased cost over our budgeted amounts thus driving up the cost to operate the ice surfaces,” the report reads.

“In order to complete our cleaning, we require a new dedicated staff member during the time we have users in the building. We are hoping to hire additional rink attendants (students) to fill part of the cleaning role.”

However, the document also notes that the town has had difficulties in the past when it comes to filling attendant and caretaker positions at the area, which would complicate the matter further in the event the positions could not be filled.

The report explains that in a best case scenario using the first reopening option, which is all 58 slots being used each week, the income versus cost to the town of Fort Frances would range from $24,069 profit to a loss of $183,031, though the report also admits that it can't meet user demands under these conditions.

The second option presented in the report instead suggests that ice times be booked in 1.5 hour increments, using two staff members to do cleaning between blocks and pening up more blocks of bookable ice time to satisfy demand from facility users.

“It would also increase the revenue potentially which could offset some of our additional costs of operating under COVID,” the report reads.

“The 30 minute savings represents approximately a 25% savings in time which could potentially add 18 time blocks for our users for a total of 76 per week.”

Taking a best case scenario approach to the second option, which again would be all 76 slots being used each week, the report suggests the town would see an income versus cost range of $18,093 profit to a loss of $129,248.

“The health unit has been provided a copy of our Ice In plan and participation requirements and has given us comments back on this document,” the report reads.

“Based on their comments we will be able to operate under their guidelines and provide the required level of sanitation/disinfection with a 1.5 hour time slot.”

The report was introduced at a Community Services Executive Committee (CSEC) meeting yesterday and in the event council receives and approves the report, then the CSEC committee will be asked to recommend one of the fee structures outlined in the report.

The report also contains a detailed list of some of the procedures that will be in place following the resumption of services on the arenas, including restricting access to the stands, meaning no spectators would be allowed to watch the games. The Fort Frances Minor Hockey Association (FFMHA) has prepared a letter and report of its own asking the town to reconsider this point and the additional cost being proposed for ice users.

“We fully understand that the requirement to clean and sanitize each area of the facility being used by the public as often as practicable could be onerous,” FFMHA's letter reads.

“FFMHA has received a lot of contact from parents who are contemplating not registering or even pulling their current registration for their children if they will not be allowed to be present for practices or games, particularly for our U7 (under 7 years old) & U9 programs. The FFMHA feels that with appropriate protocol (i.e. masks, distancing, hand sanitizing), then the space in the spectator area of the arena could be a safer venue than even the grocery or hardware store.”

Additionally, the letter notes that two arena complexes in Thunder Bay are able to clean and sanitize their surfaces between ice uses in less time than is proposed for the Memorial Sports Centre, though the letter doesn't say which complexes those are.

“The FFMHA humbly requests that the user fee rate not be increased over the existing rate of 114.92/hr to accommodate for additional cleaning time that will be required,” FFMHA's letter concludes.

“We propose that the ice season commence without an additional fee being applied to user groups to allow for ice users to navigate the additional requirements and inherent challenges without the additional stressor of supplementary ice use charges. We further propose that the added cleaning requirements by the Town for the facility would be a reasonable application of the considerable COVID funding received by the Town earlier this year.”

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