Everything is in place for the community ice rink in Virgil’s Centennial Sports Park to start getting used, except some volunteers to help supervise it.
"We just need some more volunteers to help out,” rink organizer Paolo Miele said in an interview.
The original plan was for the 40- by 80-foot rink to be open about 12 hours a day, from about 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Miele said.
But without enough volunteers it is looking like the rink only will be open from 4 until 9 p.m. on weekdays, he said.
The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake has said insurance requirements mean the ice cannot be used if there are no supervisors, a stipulation Miele wasn’t entirely ready for.
“Do I agree with it? No. (But) the town is requesting supervision, so that’s what we need,” he said.
“It’s all about the amount of volunteers we can get. As we get more volunteers and more supervision we can extend those hours.”
With Premier Doug Ford’s announcement that kids will be back in school on Jan. 17, Miele said the after-school hours should be appropriate for the time being.
Miele would like to have the rink open longer on the weekends but, once again, more volunteers are needed.
If people wish to volunteer they can get in touch with Miele on Facebook or message the “NOTL outdoor ice rink” group on the social media site.
People can also reach out directly to the town to let officials know they are willing to volunteer.
In an interview, Lord Mayor Betty Disero said the issue of supervision was not created by town staff but is a requirement of their insurance provider.
“I did discuss it with other outdoor rink operators and they all said their insurance requires a supervisor,” Disero said.
As a result, volunteer names and a volunteer schedule need to be submitted to the town so it can go to their insurance, she said.
The need for a supervisor also has nothing to do with COVID-19 and would be mandatory any time, Disero said.
That being said, supervisors will need to ensure COVID protocols are followed, such as limiting the number of people on the ice to 30 at a time and respecting social distancing among strangers.
Disero said she has been talking to as many people as she can and asking them to consider volunteering for the rink.
Helmets are mandatory and hockey is not allowed, according to the posted signage. People are also asked to wear masks, Miele said.
He said high school students who need volunteer hours are welcome to apply as supervisors.
Disero agreed about possibly having high school students volunteer but had reservations about the idea.
“I’m not sure that they would want to, just because if another group decides they’re gonna come in and play hockey, how does a high school student say to them, ‘Get off the ice. You can’t play hockey,’ ” she said.
But Disero is excited to see the rink getting used.
“I’m anxious to see people skating, people outdoors, walking around. Because that seems to be the way we’re going to be moving through this winter.”
“This is what Niagara-on-the-Lake is all about,” volunteer Martin Mazza said at the rink on Wednesday morning.
“It’s good, clean, wholesome fun. It’s safe. We want people to have fun in this time of doom and gloom,” he said.
Mazza gave all credit to Miele for organizing the rink building initiative.
Miele said building the rink was about providing fun and safe activities for NOTL’s youth and families.
“With COVID, people need to be outside. We’re encouraging people to be outside.”
On Tuesday night, Miele, Mazza and Phil Leboudec, owner of the Independent Grocer in Virgil, braved freezing temperatures to finish flooding the rink.
They’ll be flooding it two to three times a week to ensure the surface is smooth or whenever it needs a fresh coat of water. Since the rink is located in Centennial Sports Park, water is readily available to keep the ice skate-ready.
Miele hopes this is the first rink of many for the town.
“That’s what we want. We want it to continue,” Miele said.
He said building only one rink this year allows the volunteers to focus on getting it right. He hopes to build more rinks throughout the community next year.
“This year, this is obviously a learning curve. It takes a little bit of homework and there were some pitfalls and hurdles to overcome,” he said.
Miele has an even bolder vision for future rinks at Centennial Park.
"We’re talking about putting in a permanent ball hockey rink. So kids can play ball hockey in the off-season and then we can actually turn that ball hockey rink into an ice rink,” he said.
“Hopefully, we do a lot more for families and kids in the community. I think that’s what it’s all about.”
The rink cost about $5,000 to build and start operating – all raised through community donations.
“I want to thank everyone involved and everyone that came forward to donate to make this happen. Thank you to the town and staff,” Miele said.
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report