The municipality’s vision outlining the community’s future recreation goals left Squamish rink users out in the cold, say members of the ice sports community.
On Oct. 24, the District of Squamish unveiled its draft Parks and Recreation Master Plan, which assesses existing rec and parks programs and infrastructure and guides its development over the next 20 years.
Squamish rink users were “dumbfounded” to see no direct recommendations pertaining to their aging facility or actions aimed at accommodating the ice clubs’ growing memberships, said Stephen Fryer, a referee-in-chief for Squamish Minor Hockey.
The rink was built in 1977. Since then, other than required maintenance or building code updates, the rink hasn’t been touched, Fryer said, noting that the rink is used daily.
The dressing rooms are sorely inadequate, he said. Last year, a lack of space forced the Squamish Wolf Pack Junior B team to provide a portable trailer at the rink. At the end of the year, the team left Squamish partly due to the rink’s limitations.
The arena’s use was highlighted in a survey conducted by Lees and Associates, the plan’s consultants. More ice and rink time was ranked third among recreation improvement requests, Fryer noted. Ice sports ranked fourth in activities for youth; however, if skiing and snowboarding — which aren’t local sports — were subtracted from the list, ice sports climbed into the third sport, he said.
The rink’s absence from the report comes down to a dearth of ice sports representatives at the parks and rec master plan public meetings, despite a wealth of evidence outlining arena’s pitfalls, Fryer said.
“If you weren’t there, you weren’t represented,” he said.
Ice users have long pushed for an additional rink, said Tim Knight, Squamish Minor Hockey coach and coordinator. The current facility’s size hinders efforts to host tournaments and provincial championships, he said. Ice time is scarce and there are precious few after-school hours for beginner skills development, Knight said, noting teams practice as early as 5:45 a.m. and games are held as late as 10:45 p.m.
“There is no more room to wriggle out of the place,” Knight said, adding players recognized as having potential in the sport are forced to leave town.
The draft master plan ignores the inevitable replacement of the current rink, Squamish Skating club president Christina MacVicar said.
“I feel like the needs of the ice users are being set aside,” she said. “It’s very disappointing.”
The skating club has more than 100 members. It has grown between 15 to 20 per cent annually over the past couple of years. If a mechanical failure occurs, Squamish’s ice users have no alternatives, MacVicar noted, adding that unlike many of the community’s outdoors sports, hockey and figure skating rely on the municipal facility.
Instead, the plan calls for the development of a regulation-size gymnasium, which MacVicar said wasn’t requested in the first place.
“[The rink] is a family facility, it is like the swimming pool,” she said.
Infrastructure improvements and upgraded change rooms are a part of the parks and rec draft, said Erik Lees, Lees and Associates principal.
“The change rooms are outdated, for sure,” he said.
The big question remains a second sheet of ice, Lees noted. At this point the consultants recommend the district don’t pursue an additional facility, he said.
“The population just doesn’t warrant it,” Lees said, noting that 40,000 residents is usually the tipping point.
That’s partly a result of the municipality’s tax base. After building a second rink, the District of Sechelt is currently dealing with having overextended its tax revenue, he said. Capital funding is usually the easier component to come by, but it’s a facility’s ongoing operation costs that quickly drive up bills, Lees said.
“That is what eats up the tax base revenue for recreation,” he said, adding that over its lifespan, an arena can cost a community up to $50 million.
Consultants are currently compiling the information they gathered at the last public open house. Officials are also continuing conversations with stakeholders. Staff will be speaking with ice users, if they haven’t already, Lees said.