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REPORTING · 7th May 2010
Walter McFarlane
On Monday, April 26th, the Kitimat City Council held a special meeting so people who wished to discuss the budget process for 2010 could step forward to address their concerns. The turn out was not very impressive.

However, the Advisory Recreation Commission (ARC) Meeting on Tuesday, May 4th was not only very well attended but also had over an hour of presentations from concerned Coaches who wanted Kitimat Ice Rink (KIR) to remain open. With the exception of Cynthia Medeiros who represented the Snow Valley Skating Club, these coaches did not attend the Council on April 26th.

“We were under the understanding, our opinions would be best served in this forum because you advise Council and Council, as I have heard, has only gone against you once. [We figured this would] be the best bang for our buck,” said Mike Gardner of Oldtimers Hockey.

Chair of the ARC Linda Campbell pointed out Council has gone against the ARC’s recommendation more often the once. She also reminded the group when Martin Gould made the recommendation to close KIR, it was because he was mandated by Council to cut a certain amount of money out of the budget. It had nothing to do with the ARC and nothing to do with him.

The presentations began.

Medeiros expressed concern there would not be enough ice time for their skaters, who need to be on the ice three times a week to develop their skills. One third of this time is between Fridays and Saturdays, days which other clubs use when they schedule tournaments or when the skating coaches are away at competitions. The club has already crunched the numbers and kids will not have the opportunity to skate 3 times a week.

Augie Penner of Kitimat Minor Hockey expressed their teams have three ice times a week. This adds up to 2 practices and a game. They looked at their scenarios and realized each team would have one ice time a week. They would be looking at no practice, game only. Development would be gone. If there was a tournament or similar event, some groups would not get any ice at all. He also calculated both Novice and Atoms teams would be on the ice twice during the same day.

Mike Forward, representing the weekend hockey league stated one of the conditions when he moved to Kitimat was he had to be able to play hockey. Losing ice time means losing games and losing players. If they tried to fit icetime where ever they could, there would be two nights a where their icetime would end at 2 am, Mondays and Thursdays.

Paul Sorley, President of the Kitimat Oldtimers Hockey association and Mike Gardner stated Oldtimers hockey paid over $28,000 for their icetime for 2009-2010. Sorley pointed out if KIR was closed, their ice time would be reduced as would this figure. He added, since this was for adults, this was a full revenue. Kids time is subsidised.

The ability to hold tournaments and championships was brought up as well. Medeiros argued they would not be able to hold big competitions. This spotlight rotates to Kitimat once every 8 years. If there is another competition for hockey during this time, they will not be able to hold it for another 8 years. This tournament brings hundreds of people into the community. Medeiros stated the people who visit for the competition return for fishing, snowmobiling or for summer skating programs.

Penner stated Minor Hockey brings in a lot of people for tournaments and they would not be able to do these 16-18 team tournaments with only one rink. They would not have enough ice and would bump the figure skating on the weekend, which was not fair for the figure skating club. They could accommodate all groups with two rinks.

Sorley stated the closure would drastically affect their year end tournament for the Oldtimers League, the biggest Oldtimers Tournament in Sacred Circle which attracts up to 24 teams. “If you ask any out of town player, they want to come back. They love coming to this tournament; they look forward to coming to this tournament,” said Sorley.

Terry Marleau , a member of the Ice Demons commented the Demon’s were planning on extending their season. The season could mean more home games which would be tricky in one rink. They were thinking about having games in KIR for cost effectiveness.

“It promotes our community when we are able hold competitions or test days or things like that and with one arena, we can’t. We need two arenas. They run at the same time and we have skaters in both arenas for the competitions,” argued Medeiros .

Gould would later point out the three eight team hockey tournaments which Kitimat held last year would have brought approximately $78,000 to local businesses.

All of the groups were concerned they would lose participants with the diminishing of time. For the skating club, they were worried about too many early morning (5:45 am) practices interfering with school work. Medeiros stated she did not know what their membership would look like next year with Eurocan closing.

“We have the most entries at competitions and we’re a small town. Even Prince George doesn’t have the amount of entries we have because we really try and find a place for every skater. Do they just want to have fun, are they looking to be a provincial competitor? I know that I have skaters on the ice that say ‘I want to go to the Olympics,” said Medeiros .

Penner explained they would expect with the severely diminished ice time, parents would no longer want to bring kids to early morning ice times, particularly a weekend. “The intent is to keep people in sports,” said Penner.

Minor Hockey did a survey when they found out this was coming. They only expect 3 youth, out of 253 kids not to return next year because of the closure.

Forward commented, as having ice time which ends at 2 AM Mondays and Thursdays, because a majority of the players are between 20-40 and have families and day jobs, asking them to play this late is a “tall order.” He also pointed out the weekend league was losing players because of Eurocan, but other players were planning on rejoining the league.

The Oldtimers League was concerned they would lose members because of having the ice late at night and feared players would not even show up for the games. Although they have not calculated the number of players who would not be returning, they estimated their numbers would start the same and then decrease. Gardner pointed out players had to work the next day. Sorley joked about needing beauty sleep.

Marleau commented: members of the Ice Demons who worked for a living might choose to give up the team if they had later ice times.

Some of the groups brought their own arguments to the table. Medeiros pointed out obesity is a growing concern in the world at large and skating does exercise both on and off the ice. She also argued in losing the arena, there would not be time for new programs to start up. Other groups may come into town, such as retirees, who would like to use the arena but could not because all the time is used up.

Penner argued keeping KIR open, having done all the math by researching from Kitimat Newspapers, would by only an $11 increase to taxpayers. “That’s what it costs to keep KIR open per household. That’s nothing. To me, this is no reason to shut KIR down,” said Penner.

Sorley pointed out the school board was going to keep schools open a year before they decide to make any decision and thus, the closing of the rink is premature. In addition, West Fraser will be paying their taxes for the 2010 year. Sorley argued the game he loved was the only thing which kept him from getting depressed after he lost his job at Eurocan.

Gardner, on the other hand, argued by losing recreation, they would lose some of the pull which Kitimat has to draw in new businesses which are looking at available activities. He argued closing KIR would diminish not only the ice fees for using KIR, but the money drawn in by businesses which cater to ice sports: Hockey Sticks and Skate Sharpening. He added if Kitimat was to be a retirement community, they did not want to lose the 50+ league.

“Kitimat’s a hockey town, let's keep it that way,” said Sorley.

The final argument concerned other towns the size of Kitimat which only have one arena. Medeiros pointed out the clubs in these towns are lacking members, they do not send many skaters to Provincials. She added most of the towns with one arena also have committees trying to get another one.

Penner pointed out these clubs have huge problems arranging ice time and he is usually called in as a mediator to deal between these clubs. He said Kitimat cannot be compared to other towns as they do not have the numbers in sports which Kitimat has.

Brian Liberman, member of the ARC, wanted to know what Kitimat did before the town had it’s second arena. Penner replied there were not as many adult players, as a lot of people in Kitimat at the time were immigrants who did not skate. It was the kids who were learning how to skate. In addition, the rink was used 24 hours a day due to shift work.

Marleau argued when Terrace had one rink, scheduling ice time was a nightmare and two rinks make a massive difference in numbers involved in sports. He also argued by losing a rink, Kitimat would take a step backwards and could even hurt Kitimat’s population as “the straw that broke the camel's back” in terms of families who have stuck around after the Eurocan closure.

The Skating Club stated they were willing to make sacrifices and work with the District of Kitimat to keep the cost of running the arena down. When asked by School Board Representative, Barry Pankhurst, they suggested they could reduce the time which KIR needed to be open and Medeiros suggested they could alter their skating season. Lengthening the season would not work because this would compete with the soccer clubs in Kitimat.

Liberman asked if keeping KIR open could include a higher cost. Medeiros stated they knew if KIR closed, they would lose members. If they lose members, cost goes up. If costs go up, they lose more skaters and costs go up.

Marleau recommended keeping the rink open through paying the extra $11. Liberman suggested they could fundraise for this money. The response from all the groups was they already fundraise. However, the coaches stated if the fees for older hockey players went up and it meant the difference between playing at 10 pm vs 2:00 in the morning, they could see people taking the trade off.

They also pointed out they could use 2010 as a test by keeping KIR open and seeing what happens. At this time, it was pointed out: with the closure of KIR, private rink rentals on weekends would end.

When asked by Liberman about the average closing time for KIR, Martin Gould replied it was usually open from 4:30 in the morning to 10:00 at night. They would not be able to start up KIR for a weekend and then shut it down because once started up, the power bill becomes a set rate for the month. In addition, once shut down, all the ice would have be gone before they could start it up again.

A motion was made to recommend to City Council: “To keep KIR open for the 2010 - 2011 ice season and have recreation administration work with user groups to find ways to save money.”

Gould pointed out the tax year ends in December and the Eurocan money will not cover the first half of 2011. Pankhurst pointed out both Eurocan will still be paying taxes on their land and Rio Tinto Alcan is not pleased with the higher taxes this year. Pankhurst, who left a school budget meeting to come to this one, pointed out the school board was keeping a school open for an extra year on money they do not have to see what their numbers looked like.

Kristian Sorenson, the representative from the High School pointed out that after he graduates, if KIR was closed, there would be little incentive to bring him back to Kitimat. In addition, recent graduates cannot pay a lot of money for hockey. He added if games were taking place on a staggered schedule, high school kids have to work as well might have an increasing amount of conflicts. If this started to happen, some youth would eventually just quit playing hockey because they would rather be spending time with a girlfriend or their drinking buddies.

The motion was carried. Unfortunately, this is only a recommendation and Council could still choose not to pass it. Campbell encouraged the presenters to contact the Councillors, phone them and let them know what people think about closing KIR.