By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Many supporters of Oshawa minor hockey are calling offside after Oshawa council passed a controversial decision to remove the ice from Children’s Arena for this upcoming hockey season.
The decision was made in order to save on needed capital repairs to the arena, which amount to approximately $155,000 next year and $3.8 million over the next five.
Also, consultants hired by the city have noted that the city once again has a surplus of ice pads – nearly three.
However, members of Oshawa’s hockey community aren’t buying it.
Bill Swindells, an executive member with the Oshawa Minor Hockey Association, says there is no surplus of ice and with the closure of Children’s, teams will be struggling to find decent times to play.
He also noted that city staff met with the hockey leagues in April to flesh out schedules for the following year and develop the ice matrix, which lays out all the ice usage for the following season. However, there was no mention of this impending closure.
“What could change between April and now? I have no idea,” Swindells says.
Swindells says the more pads the better. It not only helps in the case of emergencies if one rink is suddenly closed, but it helps to accommodate growth.
“The expansion of our programs and the expansion of our leagues will be restricted,” Swindells said.
The motion to remove the ice was carried with only councillors Amy England, John Neal and John Shields voting against.
Before the main motion was carried, Neal added an amendment to have city staff sit down with the various groups that use the city’s ice surfaces as soon as possible to begin working on a new ice matrix. The amendment carried unanimously. This followed Neal’s failed attempt to table the report.
According to Ron Diskey, the city’s director of recreation and culture services, those meetings have been scheduled to begin on July 6.
England says she felt groups that use the ice should have been consulted further before this decision was made.
Shields also pointed out that following talks with ice user groups after the last committee meetings, some changes were made to the ice matrix. Use of the ice at the General Motors Centre is extremely unreliable, according to the hockey associations, and was devalued by 2.6 pads.
Shields noted that this would effectively eliminate the city’s 2.7 pad surplus.
However, commissioner of community services Jag Sharma dismissed this, noting the city has agreements to ensure this ice can be used.
For those councillors voting for, it came down to the tax dollars.
“I think we have to look at the cost efficiency of running our arenas,” said Councillor Bob Chapman. “The hockey leagues, I support them…but the statistics are showing we do have a surplus of ice.”
This story may strike a little close to home for some local residents who, only two years ago, fought to keep the hammer from falling on the arena at Harman Park. At the time, much needed capital repairs were required at Harman and, similar to now, consultants had identified a surplus of ice.
“It just sounds like we’re in the same environment once again,” says Bob Babin, chairman for NASC Hockey.
However, residents rallied to save the rink, and poked several holes in the consultants’ numbers, including the identification that no girls hockey was included in their matrix, and that they also included a rink in Peterborough as being used by Oshawa teams.
There were only a few supporters in the council chambers for the last meeting. However, Babin says there was just no time.
“There really wasn’t enough time to rally the troops. This really came out of the blue for us,” he said.