User groups want ice to stay

·3 min read

Bothwell residents ‘blindsided’ by Chatham-Kent council’s decision to remove the ice at Bothwell Arena are vowing to fight back.

The head of the Bothwell Area Recreation Advisory Committee says a public meeting of user groups and community leaders will be held this week to determine the next move.

“We’re never going to give up,” says BARAC president Bob Hamilton, “but we feel like we’re fighting a losing battle.

“The ice is our top priority,” he adds. “We hope to keep it for years to come.”

It’s been a tumultuous week since the municipality voted to remove the ice Nov. 9, even though it was put in around 5 weeks ago.

Chatham-Kent’s plan is to repurpose the buildings — at least temporarily — into multi-use facilities to be used for activities such as lacrosse and pickle ball.

Hamilton is also dismayed with the municipality’s initial approach to the ice installation as a delay caused hockey and user groups to close or go elsewhere.

He says nobody seems to know when the ice is actually coming out.

Hamilton says he’s heard the dates Dec. 21 or Jan. 21, or even as soon as possible.

“We don’t know, it’s been all over the board,” he explains, saying the uncertainty brings added anxiety.

Hamilton, as well as a number of Chatham-Kent councillors, are especially concerned no detailed financial analysis has been done.

Many are also very upset the municipality did not contact any of the user groups were consulted.

East Kent Coun. Steve Pinsonneault says he’s receiving a deluge of complaints about the issue, adding that while the motion may not affect Chatham’s arena greatly, it could mark the end of Bothwell’s.

He calls the early ice removal unfair, as “community and user groups were not aware it was going to happen.”

At the Nov. 9 council meeting, Pinnsonneault pushed to keep Bothwell’s ice intact for the remainder of the season.

“This year has been like no other one and if they don’t remain open, the user groups will remain gone forever. “Next year, you’ll tell us there’s been no usage, and at the end of 2021, the arena will be closed,” he says. “Let’s just finish this year off status quo to give arenas a fighting chance for next year.”

Overall, Chatham-Kent’s 10 arenas have experienced an average decline in ice rentals of nine per cent over the past five years (with Bothwell leading the way at 22 per cent), according to Jeff Bray, director, Parks, Recreation and Cemeteries. Based on 2019 registration data, Chatham-Kent needs only six arenas to operate.

User groups, including the head of Bothwell’s Figure Skating Club, are taken aback by the decision.

Julie McIntyre says the club wasn’t given any notice the ice was going to be removed “in any shape or form.

“We were blindsided,” says McIntrye. “We don’t know if we are going to be transferred to another arena. We have not been notified of anything as of yet.”

Ken Houston Memorial Agricultural Centre, East Kent Memorial Arena and the Blenheim Arena will accommodate Bothwell residents, according to the municipal report.

A similar move to remove the ice and repurpose has been approved for the Erickson Arena in Chatham.

Local residents who want to make their concerns known are asked to sent emails to Mayor Darrin Canniff and each individual councillor.

The individual addresses can be found on the municipality’s webpage.

Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Herald