South River is targeting Sept. 15 to reopen the South River-Machar Community Centre and Arena. Clerk administrator Don McArthur says the date is not wishful thinking. “Given where we are today with vaccines and moving forward with other re-openings, Sept. 15 seems very realistic,” McArthur said. “And the sense we're getting from our user groups is they are anxious to have as normal a fall as possible and that's what we're preparing for.” McArthur says the municipality talked with the local figure skating, hockey and curling organizations to get a sense of what target date everyone preferred and there was agreement on returning to the ice in mid-September. McArthur also says if COVID protocols remain necessary this fall, the municipality will have them in place. McArthur says having the protocols in effect won't be difficult considering South River ran a successful program last fall when Ontario arenas began to reopen. “We were really proud of the work our staff did to operate the arena in a safe manner,” he said. He acknowledges the unexpected could happen to delay the reopening just like last winter when another extended lockdown hit Ontario. The local arena implemented a regular shutdown Dec. 22 with the expectation of reopening Jan. 5 until the provincial lockdown order was announced. Arenas have remained closed since. With the arena remaining closed for the next two months, it means the municipality will once again not be able to host its Hockey Opportunity Camp. The Machar-based program is one of the biggest revenue generators for the arena. McArthur says with no hockey camp and no plans to try to hold other summer programs at the arena, the community will instead use the downtime to carry out maintenance at the facility. Thanks to large federal and provincial grants announced last month, the staff can carry out a substantial upgrade at the arena which includes installing new generators and upgrading the kitchen, which can also be used as an emergency site to prepare food in case of a major blackout. The generators would keep the power on at the arena, meaning it can also double as a shelter if needed during a prolonged outage. McArthur says the goal is to have the ice ready Sept. 15 and that means starting the compressors to create the ice around the beginning of September. During the prolonged lockdown, there was no need for the full arena staff to stay on the job and McArthur says the municipality is grateful some workers took voluntary layoffs. Soon those workers should be able to be recalled if the planned reopening remains unaffected. Last year, although there was some limited arena use, one group that was totally shut out from using the facility was people interested in public skating. McArthur said given the structure of the COVID guidelines, it was not possible to manage a group of people just walking into the arena for public skating as opposed to user groups which had a better handle on their people. “However, we're optimistic we'll be able to return to a normal public skating season at some point this fall,” McArthur said. The South River-Machar Community Centre and Arena gets a lot of use throughout the year, especially the rink surface. In a non-COVID year, McArthur says the only time the arena floor has no ice is during April and May. During those two months the ice is removed for crews to carry out regular maintenance and then it's put back in during June for July's Hockey Opportunity Camp. The ice stays in place until the end of the following March. All the users and staff hope once the ice goes back in again in September, it's finally back to normal.
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 Reporter, The North Bay Nugget