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Hockey community slams city’s call to close ice pad

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Supporters of minor hockey in Oshawa are once again blowing the whistle on city plans to get rid of an ice rink.

Harman Park Arena almost saw it’s ice thaw for the last time in 2013 when city council debated temporarily closing its doors.

Now, Harman Park is off the chopping block and Children’s Arena has taken its place.

Preliminary findings from the needs assessment report on the needs for parks, recreation, library and culture facilities show that Oshawa has too many ice surfaces for the population’s needs. For this reason, city staff have recommended that the single pad at Children’s Arena be removed.

The removal would save the city $3.8 million over the next five years in capital repairs to the arena. In 2015, $135,000 would be needed to replace the refrigeration condenser.

There is no risk of the building closing for good, but minor hockey supporters are saying the removal of the rink would only make it more difficult for teams to find space to play and practice.

Bill Swindells, a member of the executive for the Oshawa Minor Hockey Association, spoke before the community services committee on June 18 and urged council to ignore the staff recommendation.

While the city’s report states there would be no loss of ice hours to current hockey clubs, Swindells argues the report makes a few crucial mistakes, such as not accounting for growth in the hockey community.

“We are going to grow. We need to keep what we have,” he says.

However, according to the city report, arenas are being used less than they were five years ago, dropping seven per cent, or 634 hours, annually.

Swindells also argued including the General Motors Centre spare ice pad in the matrix is an error, as teams are rarely able to use the surface.

Bob Babin, the chairman of NASC Hockey, said the same.

“If you solicit the ice users, you will find that ice usage in this building is inconsistent,” he said in an emailed response to The Express. “We are constantly being bumped out of the facility with little notice and no recourse.”

Babin says issues arise when large tournaments are held, and large facilities such as the Legends Centre are completely filled, forcing other teams to find ice elsewhere.

“All users will be affected as we’ll be forced to reduce our programming in order to accommodate their shortage, or we’ll be forced to have kids on the ice, only starting at 10 p.m., which is not acceptable,” Babin says.

When the possible closure of Harman Park Arena came to council chambers two years ago, Oshawa’s hockey community came out in droves to protest a report that depicted a similar picture to the information currently before committee.

Such as the case with the ice at the Children’s Arena, a report found an ice pad surplus, with the report being slammed by the hockey community for containing inaccurate numbers.

At the time, Harman Park, similar to Children’s, was in need of costly repairs.

However, council voted down staff’s report and kept the rink open.

Now, Swindells is asking the city for more accurate numbers on current ice usage and requested a copy of the ice matrix staff are using to inform their findings.

Councillor John Neal requested the report be tabled so the information could be provided to the ice-using community.

“(Children’s) has been a part of Oshawa since 1956. I played hockey there myself,” he says. “That’s the least we can do at this point, I believe.”

However, the motion was defeated, with Councillors Bob Chapman, Nester Pidwerbecki, John Shields, Rick Kerr and Mayor John Henry voting against.

Neal also tried to have the item referred to a public meeting, which also failed.

“We are not closing the arena,” Chapman explained. “We are just not putting ice in it for one season. I think (we) should be passing this motion here to move forward, have staff deal with it…and they’ll be able to prove that the ice that is needed is available without Children’s.”

The motion to remove the ice from Children’s passed with only Neal voting against, and will go to council on June 29. An amendment was also added to provide the ice matrix to all ice users.