Airdrie City council is eager to see local indoor skating arenas offer public skating in some capacity this fall.
In a decision mirroring its stance on the Chinook Winds Spray Park earlier this summer, council did not follow City staff's recommendation to cancel indoor skate times, agreeing instead they’d like to see the indoor rinks open to the public in some form this year.
At a regular meeting Aug. 17, staff from Genesis Place Recreation Centre highlighted the difficulties of offering indoor public skate times or shinny hockey during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the resumption of services at Genesis Place and arenas, administration has had to work closely with Alberta Health Services (AHS) to ensure our programs and services meet the guidelines set out in Stage 2 of Return to Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation,” said Rachelle Ash, customer services team lead for Genesis Place.
Ash added the Alberta government’s guidelines suggest that, wherever possible, activities should be relocated to outdoor settings or be modified to keep participants at a safe distance from each other. Indoor programs "conflict with the guideline of limiting indoor use to organized activities,” she added.
In a normal year, Ash said, the City’s indoor arenas offer six weekly ice times to the public at Genesis Place, the Ron Ebbesen Arena and the Plainsman Arena during prime and non-prime times from October to March. These include slots for open public skating, parent-and-tot skating, shinny hockey and, most recently, sledge hockey.
Airdrie residents also have access to 13 outdoor rink and ice surfaces for unstructured leisure skating. Therefore, Ash said staff’s recommendation was to suspend indoor public skating times and direct administration to educate Airdrie residents about the opportunities to use outdoor rinks and ice surfaces instead.
“This option best follows the guidance and recommendations as provided by AHS and requires minimal resources,” she said, noting other municipalities like Olds, Calgary, Black Diamond and Foothills County have suspended indoor public skating during the pandemic.
If public indoor skating times were offered this winter, Ash said additional staff would be required to process reservations, check in participants, monitor on-ice activities and oversee compliance with health protocols. This could result in additional costs of $525 a week or $13,650 over the course of the fall and winter season, she said.
Council unanimously directed staff to return with more information on the possibility of offering indoor public skating and shinny hockey this winter.
“Looking ahead to the wintertime, everyone is going to be cooped up in their house,” Coun. Candice Kolson said. “If we still have a lot of restrictions in place for travel and recreation, I think having a public skate would be a really good opportunity for folks.”
Kolson added an abnormally warm winter could render outdoor rinks unusable and an extremely cold winter could make it unsafe for youth to skate outdoors.
“I’d like to see staff come back with more of a middle ground," she said. "Yes, we may incur costs, as far as staffing and more supervisory controls on those free skates, but I’d hate to see those parent-and-tot skates be cancelled completely, or that, on the weekends, when kids are finally able to go do some activities, they’re not able to do a drop in.”
Couns. Tina Petrow and Ron Chapman both brought up the potential of implementing a booking system for the indoor arenas, similar to what was done with the fitness centre and aquatic centre at Genesis Place.