Neighbourhood rinks flooded with extra cash

By Kris Ohashi

While the Ottawa Senators struggle to stay afloat financially, hockey is alive and well at outdoor rinks in Centretown.

Mark Magee, the City of Ottawa’s program manager of seasonal recreation, says Centretown’s outdoor skating rinks have received more funding this year as part of a plan to harmonize the maintenance of all of Ottawa’s outdoor rinks, among other recreational activities.

“Amalgamation has turned into harmonization,” he says. “It’s been a long process trying to harmonize different programs in recreation because previously there were 11 ways of doing things.”

The four-year plan implements a community-based model, relying on volunteers and community workers to operate and maintain outdoor rinks, with the city providing grants to communities.

While the plan looks to harmonize recreational programs, Magee says it is also the most economically sensible method for the city.

“There’s 221 outdoor rinks across the city. If we were to go with an all-city maintenance type of service, the cost would escalate because of the cost of trucks and city staff,” he says.

“When you’re dealing with a union, you’re dealing with higher wages. When you go out to the community, the community can do maintenance through volunteers or hire somebody, but they certainly wouldn’t pay as much as the city would in a union environment.”

While a community-based model was already in place for Centretown’s outdoor rinks, grants from the city have risen, ranging from $1,100 to $4,700 depending on the type of rink.

A high-board rink with supervision and a secondary skating surface, like Jack Purcell Community Centre’s rink off of Elgin Street, now receives the maximum $4,700 a year, as opposed to just over $4,300 last year.

But Magee says rinks previously receiving more than the maximum grant allotted for this year will see funding cut over the next three years by 33 per cent of the difference each year.

All arenas receiving a raise in grants this year receive the maximum allowable amount for their rink-type.

While grants from the city have risen by roughly $75,000 from last year to $625,000 for its 221 outdoor rinks, Magee says the figure will come back down in coming years.

More grant money for Centretown’s outdoor rinks could mean better equipment or more maintenance staff, leading to better ice surfaces.

“The ice conditions are great this year,” says 15 year-old Travis James, a Centretown resident who often plays hockey at McNabb’s outdoor arena at Bronson and Gladstone avenues.

“The weather has a lot to do with it, but they’re also doing a great job with the rink.”

Over at Jack Purcell, people of all ages play shinny in the high-board rink while others like Amy Brown, 29, skate peacefully on the secondary rink with their families.

“It’s a lot of fun here, and my kids love it,” says Brown. “The ice is beautiful this year and to top it all off, it’s great exercise.”

But some, like Centretown resident Tim Adams, 22, haven’t noticed any changes.

“The ice is in good shape this year, I’ll give them that,” says Adams, who frequently skates at Jack Purcell. “But really, it just seems like the same old rink to me.”

Economics aside, Magee maintains it is important to Canadian culture that Ottawa continues its outdoor rink program.

“Hockey and winter activities are a big part of our culture because of our climate,” says Magee.

“Playing shinny is not just important from a fitness perspective, but also a social perspective, as is our community-based model. It gets people out to the rink to help out, whereas many of us become hermits over the winter because it’s so cold!”