The presidents of Nelson’s minor hockey and skating clubs say they are concerned for the future of the Civic Centre’s rink after its abrupt closure last month.
Lisa Upper and Krista Brackett, presidents of the Nelson Minor Hockey Association and Nelson Skating Club respectively, say they weren’t consulted before the Regional District of Central Kootenay announced the rink would shut down for the season on Jan. 29.
The RDCK, which manages the city-owned building as well as the adjacent Nelson and District Community Complex (NDCC), said a reduction in revenues was forcing the Civic and four other regional rinks to close two months before the ice season usually ends.
Minor hockey and skating are the only two sports that were using the Civic ice at the time of the closure. Adult recreational hockey also uses the ice, but has been sidelined this season by COVID-19 restrictions.
Upper said she’s worried that the premature closure of the Civic ice could give municipal and regional governments an impression the arena is expendable.
“We worry that the consultation process maybe doesn’t happen and that they just make a decision,” said Upper. “And we might just hear about it short notice.”
Minor hockey and skating typically rent ice at the Civic as well as the NDCC. Closing the Civic, Upper said, meant minor hockey was forced to reduce scheduled monthly ice times from an average of 35 to 40 down to 18.
Skating, which was already running reduced programming after it had to cut adult skating an some beginner classes, lost one weekly session at the Civic.
“It’s a really important ice surface to have because the NDCC can’t house everybody at the same time when you have all of the minor hockey or men’s hockey leagues and the other rec leagues running,” said Brackett.
“There’s not enough ice time for everyone on one surface.”
Joe Chirico, the RDCK’s general manager of community services, said Civic had lost approximately $48,000 this season, mostly due to the lack of revenue from adult hockey.
The Civic, he said, earned $85,000 in revenue during the 2019-20 season. This year it had only taken in $31,000 by the time it was closed. Closing the Civic early, Chirico said, will help the RDCK keep its taxation amount the same for the next ice season.
In November, the federal-provincial Safe Restart Agreement announced it would provide $760,000 to the RDCK and $2.6 million to the city to support re-openings and local emergency response due to the pandemic.
But that money won’t be used to keep the Civic open. Chirico said the RDCK’s portion of funds will be distributed across the 200 services operated by the regional district throughout the year.
City manager Kevin Cormack meanwhile told the Nelson Star the city is still in the process of identifying COVID-19 expenses and lost revenue for the last year through 2022 before it can begin to allocate its funds.
Last August, city council voted to spend $80,000 on a redesign of the Civic Centre that will include energy upgrades, a new concourse and elevator in the 86-year-old building. Those upgrades would be paid for by the CleanBC Communities fund, which the city applied for. Recipients are set to be announced in the summer.
An investment in the Civic’s infrastructure suggests the building, which includes the Civic Theatre and Glacier Gymnastics, will continue to operate.
As for the rink, Chirico refuted rumours it would be shut down after this season.
“Any change in recreational service, that’s a long-term change whether we’re building something new or we’re changing the use of something …,” he said. “We are planning on operating the Civic in the 2021-22 season. Our budgets are set for that.”
In the meantime, minor hockey and skating have each accepted cuts to their ice times to continue operating at the NDCC.
For the skating club, that means losing access to its jump harness at the Civic, which helps figure skaters learn how to safely complete aerial moves such as axels and salchows.
“The harness is really instrumental in allaying their fears and making it safe so they don’t have too hard of a fall,” said head coach Sarah Gower.
The skating season usually extends through April. Gower said the club currently has 43 skaters, a drop from its usual average of 75, and that a lack of ice time hampers its ability to train future athletes.
“We don’t have a huge base to move through into the higher levels,” she said. “That’s a problem.”
Minor hockey, meanwhile, has been forced to cut a girls-only program, as well as goalie training and power skating clinics.
One of the 26 players using the girls-only program is the daughter of Kathy Conne, Nelson minor hockey’s executive administrator. Conne said the program is key to making girls feel comfortable in the sport.
“They’re a completely different hockey player when they’re in on the ice with just girls as opposed to being in their co-ed teams,” she said. “So it’s really helped them foster some confidence and develop their skill to the point where they can feel more comfortable and be more effective on their co-ed teams.”
Minor hockey meanwhile is just offering team practices at the NDCC, since the provincial health orders have banned games and team travel. That means the minor hockey season will conclude at the end of February, instead of stretching into March for playoffs.
Upper said parents have also reached out to express their disappointment, both with the RDCK as well as with minor hockey. Some have asked for refunds, which Upper said the non-profit organization is not in a position to offer.
It’s not only users who value the Civic rink, she said, and Upper hopes local governments see what she says is obvious to people who visit Nelson.
“It is lovely. When we host tournaments, we get some pretty positive feedback about the old arena and having the museum in there. People find it charming and appreciate the history of it.”
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