Hundreds of skaters and hockey players in Cranbrook, B.C., are wondering what the upcoming season will look like after two of the city's three ice rinks were forced to close due to safety concerns.
The City of Cranbrook says a recent engineering report shows the roof structure of the city's Memorial Arena is no longer safe.
The ice-making equipment at the arena also serves the neighbouring Kinsmen Arena and is accessed through Memorial Arena, meaning the city of more than 20,000 people is left with just one ice surface at Western Financial Place.
"Nobody is happy about it, but everybody seems to understand," said Trevor Thors, the city's director of recreation and culture.
The Kinsmen Arena is still open for activities like floor hockey, but there is no ice available.
The city said in a press release that they were aware of some of the roof issues at the Memorial Arena back in 2008.
At that time, they undertook some engineered maintenance work to extend the lifespan of the wooden beams, but now there is too much internal decay, according to the report.
Thors says the Memorial Arena's roof structure will either need to be replaced or a new facility will need to be built, which could take years.
User groups scrambling for ice times
In the meantime, user groups are working with the city to come up with alternative plans. Groups like the Cranbrook Skating Club and Cranbrook Minor Hockey rely on both the Memorial and Kinsmen arenas for ice time.
"We all knew that it was an old building but it came as a total shock to me that structurally, you know, we can't be in there," said Cranbrook Skating Club president Christine Malfair.
She says the club requests ice time in March and April and plans their season in August. Skaters of all ages are already registered.
"We only have two ice times outside of the Memorial Arena," she said.
And although accommodations have been made for some skaters to join programs in the nearby community of Kimberley, they are left with questions about the season ahead, she says.
"Not really knowing what that means for our other programs is heartbreaking because there's a lot of kids that are looking forward to learning how to skate this year," Malfair said.
Pictured is one of the beams in the roof structure of the Memorial Arena in Cranbrook. Engineers have determined that the structure is no longer safe, and the arena is closed until further notice. (City of Cranbrook)
Aaron Byng-Hall is vice-president of the Cranbrook Minor Hockey Association (CMHA).
He says the more than a dozen leagues in the association will continue with the hockey season, albeit on different ice.
"Taking a step back, we understand," he said. "[The city] needed an expert opinion and we're just going to have to move forward with the season. It just will look a little different."
He says they are working with communities like Fernie, Invermere and Creston to book ice time, which he acknowledged means a lot of driving for parents and caregivers.
"Parents are obviously concerned — concerned about the season, concerned about the money they have paid. But we're doing everything in our power to ensure we have a good season," said Byng-Hall.
The roof of the Memorial Arena in Cranbrook is shown in this photo. The city said in a press release they were aware of some of the roof issues back in 2008. (City of Cranbrook)
He referenced 2017 when three arena operators died in Fernie after an ammonia leak in their Memorial Arena.
"Everyone rallied together, and all of the different communities came together," said Byng-Hall.
"Engineers said the [Cranbrook] rink is not safe, and at that point it needs to be shut down. So of course we're on board from a safety perspective."
Residents question whether arena was a priority
Residents have taken to Facebook to ask why the engineering assessment wasn't done sooner, suggesting it may have given user groups more time to prepare.
CBC News asked the city, and Thors responded via email saying, "staff were aware of the beam deterioration and decided during their latest inspection it was time for an engineering review by a structural engineer."
He adds that staff are looking into the Memorial Arena records, and more information will be available in the engineer's report, which will be presented to council on Oct. 16.