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This article was published 21/8/2018 (397 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A recent ice-plant breakdown at Notre Dame arena has hockey leagues in St. Boniface scrambling to find times at other rinks before fall tryouts begin in a few weeks.
The Notre Dame Recreational Centre, a volunteer community group that operates the city-owned facility, said repairing or replacing the ice plant could keep the arena closed beyond the end of the calendar year.
While area teams wait to see where their players will be practising and playing, the community group is on hold until city hall decides whether to help repair or replace the plant before the entire 2018-19 winter season is lost.
The organization plans to lay off as many as 20 part-time staff and determine how it can further cope with the expected loss of ice-rental revenue, estimated at between $150,000 and $300,000 depending on the length of the shutdown.
"This is completely rare and unusual situation. I haven’t heard (ice) plants being unexpectedly shut down for extended periods of time as long as this," said Shaun Chornley, the president of the St. Boniface Minor Hockey Association.
"It’s going to be a struggle to find ice. In some cases, where some kids and their parents were used to a comfortable time, they’ll have to adapt to something they’re not used to… earlier or later times, and travelling greater distances outside (St. Boniface)."
Raymond Comeault, the president of the recreational centre board, said his group and city hall were aware the ice plant at the 34-year-old arena was approaching its end-of-life and it shouldn't have been a surprise when it broke down Aug. 8.
Comeault said the rec centre board members hoped to avoid the current situation and had applied to all three levels of government for funds to replace the plant, but were unsuccessful.
"We knew the ice plant was getting older; we wanted to replace it in a timely fashion when it wouldn’t be disruptive," he said. "Now this has caused a disruption in St. Boniface minor hockey and to the hockey community in Winnipeg in general, because they are short one ice surface."
Chornley said the arena, part of a recreational campus located off Provencher Boulevard in Old St. Boniface, was heavily used by novice and Timbits youth teams and the association's women's hockey program.
"It was one of the major arenas in our association that’s been basically taken out of the equation now," he said.
A spokesman for ward Coun. Matt Allard said civic staff have been working with the rec centre board.
Ryan Palmquist, Allard’s executive assistant, said city hall has a standing offer to provide both administrative and financial help once the Notre Dame rec centre board submits a business plan and an application.
A city spokesman said repairs might be a feasible short-term solution to keep the facility operating this year, but the ultimate objective, with council’s approval, would be to replace the plant next spring or summer.
Marc Rougeau, the rec centre’s executive administrator, said the plant broke down when staff had begun installing the ice.
"When it first broke down, the first two companies that came out and looked at it said… it’s fried, it’s not worth fixing," Comeault said, adding city officials insisted the group first obtain a repair estimate, which is expected by the end of the week.
Comeault said grant applications to the city and the province were rejected two years ago and a request last year to the federal government through its Canada 150 program was also rejected.
The Riel community committee provided the group with a $50,000 grant last year for a design study to determine the cost to replace the ice plant — $1.2 million.
“We applied for grants to replace it but I guess in the city’s wisdom they were hoping to just hang on to it a bit longer and it crapped out on us." -Raymond Comeault, president, recreational centre board
"We applied for grants to replace it but I guess in the city’s wisdom they were hoping to just hang on to it a bit longer and it crapped out on us," Comeault said. "Now we’re in a position where the city says, ‘We want (an estimate) on how much it will be to actually fix it.’ So that’s what we’re waiting for and then the city will have to make a decision if they want to invest that money on an old plant that we know is at the end of its life cycle, or invest in a new one."
Rougeau said rink and restaurant employees, about 14 part-time and seasonal staff, were notified they’d be laid off, adding another six centre and office staff could also see their hours reduced, or be laid off as well.
The board is meeting Monday to consider contingency plans.
Comeault said ice rentals generate about $300,000 in revenue that helps subsidize many of the centre’s free and discounted community programs. He said the board will have to consider how to deal with that loss, possibly with additional layoffs or by attempting to use natural ice on the arena floor once the outside temperature plunges in order to salvage part of the season.
The board has managed to accumulate a reserve of $300,000 over the years, Comeault said, which was intended to go towards the cost of a new ice plant, but he said now that money might have to be used to maintain programming until the arena is operational.
"It’s a season in jeopardy," Rougeau said.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.