Future of ice at South River-Machar Arena in limbo

·4 min read

South River and Machar residents should have a better idea over the next few weeks what will happen to the ice at their arena in the wake of the province's 28-day stay-at-home order.

South River council will discuss the issue at its Jan. 25 meeting.

South River clerk-administrator Don McArthur says the municipality developed COVID-19 protocols for the arena's four user groups that were working prior to the latest lockdown.

The arena was used by the Junior A Spartans, boys' minor hockey, girls' minor hockey and figure skating.

The protocols were explained to the users last fall and McArthur says when the arena opened in October, everything “worked wonderfully.

“We really felt comfortable with the protocols and with the cooperation of the groups where they took on a lot of the responsibilities,” McArthur says. “They looked after their own contact tracing and what we did was buy disinfectant and sanitized the equipment.”

This approach worked well, he says, and the municipality didn't have to put any extra staff at the arena.

It would have been a different story had council opened the arena to public skating.

“If we allowed public skating, protocols like who's coming and going would have to have been done by us,” McArthur says. “So the staffing level would have gone up considerably in order to police and look after all that information flow.”

That would have become too expensive for the municipality, he says.

The protocols the municipality has in place are good and “everyone feels confident that we can operate safely.

“But we don't have that option (to operate) under the lockdown,” McArthur says.

The South River-Machar Community Centre and Arena has been closed since Dec. 21.

Assuming there's a reopening in the near future, the user groups will operate under the same protocols in place prior to Dec. 21.

McArthur says staff and council are looking at various scenarios depending on when the latest lockdown ends. In the best-case scenario, the lockdown could be lifted earlier in the North, in which case “if we're delayed only two to four weeks then maybe we can add that time and run the season a little later into March or to the end of March.

“Council's challenge is we don't know if or when we'll get a green light,” McArthur says. “So at what point does it become too late or no longer economically feasible for us and the user groups?”

This is now a waiting game and it's not easy as options are weighed.

“The big cost, beyond wages, at the arena is maintaining the ice,” he says. “If there isn't going to be anyone using it and no revenue coming in, then how long do we maintain that ice for?”

McArthur adds the arena isn't only used for winter activities. It's also used for a hockey opportunity camp during the summer. In fact, the arena is at its busiest during the eight to 10 weeks of the hockey camp. The facility is only without ice from mid April to mid June.

When the lockdowns first started last March, McArthur says the hockey camp “was one of the first (activities) to take a direct hit.”

With the arena in shutdown mode, staff were able to carry out considerable maintenance at the site that normally would not be achievable.

But with the arena down for the entire summer, it meant no revenue to the municipality.

McArthur says 2020 saw the arena lose about $40,000 over and above its normal expenses.

McArthur says the province's safe restart agreement helped offset part of the arena loss and council is grateful for that. Council also was able to offset the remainder of the loss by reducing the number of capital projects it had scheduled for 2020.

One of those projects involved a compressor rebuild at the arena.

So, while the village will still have a balanced budget for 2020, it comes at a cost because it now has to delay some of the scheduled capital projects into the future, McArthur says.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget