City of Saint John lobbies for ice strategy to replace aging rinks / by Bill MacMackin

City of Saint John lobbies for ice strategy to replace aging rinks - Sarah Petz Telegraph-Journal

   Saint John • The City of Saint John is hoping a regional recreation strategy can be a catalyst to replacing four aging rinks.

   As part of endorsing the Fundy Regional Services Commission’s regional recreation plan, council will push for the commission to use this initiative to develop an ice strategy for the greater Saint John region.

   The recreation plan, spearheaded by the Fundy Regional Service Commission, would see greater collaboration between communities and possible cost sharing when planning any future facilities in the greater Saint John region.

   Four city arenas, Charles Gorman, Hilton Belyea, Peter Murray, and Stewart Hurley, are nearing the end of their useful lives. The city estimates that it has about five to 10 years left before it has to replace them all and wants to be in the position to do so before their time is up, said Tim O’Reilly, deputy commissioner of parks and public spaces.

 Thirty-five per cent of the users of Saint John’s arenas come from outside the city, O’Reilly pointed out.   “It’s not going to impact just Saint John alone to not have these rinks, it’s going to impact the entire region,” he said.

   “Recreation is a big part of how people decide where to live, not only for the city of Saint John but the region. So if we don’t have enough rinks in the region to satisfy the demand, that’s one more disadvantage for people not to move to the region as a whole.”

   O’Reilly’s report argued that the ice surfaces for the proposed Exhibition Park field house fit well with both the city’s desire to replace its rinks and the goals of a regional recreation strategy.   Phase 1 of the facility will feature two turf pitches for field sports, a running track, a community centre and daycare, and multi-purpose space for the community to use. Phase 2 of the project includes a sports arena with two ice pads.

   Bill MacMackin, board chairman of the field house project, said the whole purpose of including two ice pads as part of plans for the facility was to give the city a viable option to replace these arenas when their lifecycles came to an end.   He added that he thinks the facility’s proposed location in east Saint John is well placed to replace them. The sooner the city can come up with a plan to do so, the better, he said.

   “It will take a number of years to flesh out a project like this and get it through to completion. Five to 10 years on the old arenas seems like a long time, but they fly by very quickly,” he said.

   The proponents of the project have always presented it as a regional facility, even though it would be located in Saint John, he said, adding that they’ve reached out to different communities to ask for capital contributions.

  On Monday, council also confirmed its support for $24-million complex. The city has committed to provide $4.2 million in funding over three years.

  MacMackin said he was “very pleased” to hear council affirm its commitment, adding that the project’s board has been responding “quite regularly”to city staff questions about it.

   “We’re respectful of their expertise and working very hard to build those ideas into our own operating strategy,” he said.

   “So we’re positive, but we also believe firmly that we can deliver a good project to the city and we need the City of Saint John’s support to do that.”

   The project’s board has thus far raised $10.3 million of the $12 million it needs in community fundraising for the project. That figure includes the city’s contribution.

   The plan requires that provincial and federal funding make up the other half.   One councillor did raise some concerns with using the ice strategy as the regional plan’s first project.

   Greg Norton said he was concerned that using arenas to test out the initiative, rather than something like a trail system that connects communities, would be divisive.

   “At the very start of it, before the conversation gets started, you have to decide where that rink is going to be built,” he said.

   “And that’s a dividing point, for not only the communities that you’re trying to involve, but Saint John itself.”

   Coun. Gary Sullivan said he agreed with Norton’s point, arguing that if the plan’s goal is to encourage regional co-operation, it might have more chance of success if its first project focuses on something that connects communities.

   The Fundy Regional Service commission will vote on whether to move forward with the recreation plan on Dec. 14.

Gary Crossman, assistant coach of the bantam aaa Saint John Sea Dogs gets ready for practice at the Lord Beaverbrook Rink on tuesday. Photo: Sarah Petz/telegraPh-Journal

The Lord Beaverbrook Rink is one of four arenas in Saint John that city staff estimate must be replaced in the next five to 10 years. Photo: telegraPh-Journal