After staying closed for more than six months, the Pete Knight Memorial Arena in Crossfield is slated to reopen to user groups Sept. 22.
According to Arena Manager Brian Canuel, the facility will welcome back local skaters with a variety of new health and safety protocols to comply with Alberta Health Services (AHS) regulations meant to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“There’s a big need to have the kids come back and play, and for adults to come back and skate, too,” he said.
The new measures include limiting on-ice capacity to 40 people and having just one parent or family member come to the arena with their child. Canuel added that, apart from putting on their skates, athletes should arrive at the arena dressed and ready to play.
Furthermore, because of the tight configuration of the arena’s bleachers, Canuel said parents will not be allowed to watch sessions – a rule he acknowledged some people in Crossfield have expressed disappointment with.
“Because hockey is such a family sport and some kids are coming for the first time, yeah, there are a few people concerned they’re not allowed to stay and watch,” he said. “A lot of people used other examples of other places that are allowing for parents in the stands, but they’re quite different setups than what we have. People brought up Genesis Place [Recreation Centre] in Airdrie, but that’s a totally different setup than what we have.”
The facility’s main user groups, according to Canuel, are the Crossfield Minor Hockey Association and the Crossfield Skating Club. Other than those two organizations, the Airdrie Minor Hockey Association and Rocky Mountain Athletic Association also routinely rent out the ice.
The main challenge in reopening the venue, he said, was complying with the different return-to-play guidelines set out by both hockey and figure skating authorities.
“Hockey Canada is different from Skate Canada, so we’ve had to accommodate everybody,” he said.
To assist with overseeing the new protocols and additional cleaning measures, Canuel added the arena will be hiring additional staff this year.
“We’re going to bring on extra staff, which we’ve never had before, to help with cleaning touchpoints,” he said. “We’ve never had an attendant in Crossfield – it’s a pretty small arena – so we have a limited budget. But we’re going to bring in secondary staff, and we’re trying to control what we can, which are…the dressing rooms, the lobby, the players’ boxes and benches.”
Canuel said the rule against having spectators could be removed or adjusted in the future if the state of the pandemic improves and provincial guidelines are relaxed.
“The plan is set out, but it can change daily, weekly or monthly as we go forward," he said.
Considering the popularity of winter sports in Crossfield, Canuel added many residents of the town are excited to see the arena reopen. If everyone is able to work collaboratively, he added he doesn’t see why the 2020-21 season won’t be successful.
“It’s going to be a different season [and] I don’t tell anyone any different,” he said. “I think if people work together…I honestly think we’ll make it work."