Construction is now underway on Alberta's first fully accessible outdoor rink.
When the community rink in the northwest Calgary neighbourhood of Parkdale reached the end of its 30-year lifespan, about three years ago, the Parkdale Community Association began exploring options to replace it.
At a meeting, said rink director John Butterwick, association members wondered if rink accessibility was an issue for seniors, persons with disabilities and sledge hockey players.
It led them to connect with the Calgary Sledge Hockey Association, which directed them to the Dakota Community Centre in Winnipeg — home to the first accessible outdoor rink built in Canada.
"People were coming over from everywhere in Canada to use the rink [in Winnipeg]," Butterwick said Friday on the Calgary Eyeopener. "It really was a game-changer for their community."
The Parkdale Community Association teamed up Level Playing Field, which provides accessibility consulting services, to learn what the construction of an accessible rink would entail.
"There wasn't really that much difference between the regular old rink and an accessible rink," Butterwick said. "So we decided we had to do this, and we're on our way."
Built in 2 phases
Construction will unfold in two phases with an estimated cost of $500,000 each, Butterwick said.
Completion of the rink is expected in late December to early January.
The funding has been sourced through Parks Foundation Calgary, the Calgary Flames Foundation, a provincial grant and a reimbursement grant through the city.
The first phase will involve the reconstruction of the rink itself — bench doors will be wider so that persons using sleds can easily get in and out.
It will be able to endure sledge hockey sticks, which are studded with metal spikes.
There will be no lip onto the ice; rather, it will be level, allowing people using walkers or sleds to slide on and off.
The boards will be clear, so spectators and players who are off the ice can see the game from sleds or wheelchairs.
When the construction of the rink is completed, Phase 2 will focus on ensuring the changing rooms, bathrooms and rink itself are made accessible.
Pathways will be changed through paving and concrete pads to make them easier and safer to use.
"It'll be built to Canadian sledge hockey standards with accessibility in mind," Butterwick said.
He said it would be inviting "to everybody — inclusive of all abilities and ages."
'Hopefully, it's the first of many'
Darby Young, the principal accessibility strategist with Level Playing Field, said the rink will have a tremendous impact on kids and athletes with disabilities who want to play outside.
"We're hopeful that it sparks joy in persons with disabilities, and [makes them] want to engage in outdoor activities with their families," she said.
She is also optimistic that as outdoor rinks in Calgary continue to need replacing, more community associations will look to Parkdale's inclusive example.
"By having this community group take steps to make the rink inclusive, it's opening the doors in being a leader for the rest of the City of Calgary community associations, as they start to retrofit and make changes," Young said.
"Hopefully, it's the first of many."
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.