STELLARTON – The Stellarton rink commission is considering turning its 69-year-old arena it into a new state-of-the-art training facility with synthetic ice.
Paul Corbin, recreation director for the Town of Stellarton, made a presentation to the rink commission Monday that stated it would cost the town up to $300,000 to install top-quality synthetic ice on the surface of the Stellarton Memorial Arena, but maintenance costs could be considerably lower than its current upkeep.
“ I have skated on it and felt faster on it,” he said. “It has improved since it was brought up at the rink commission meeting in the past, but it is expensive.”
Synthetic ice is a solid polymer material designed for skating using normal metal skate blades.
Currently, he said, the town is paying for maintenance on its ice plant as well as other upkeep and these figures are comparable to the cost of putting in the synthetic floor.
Corbin said some work would have to be done to accommodate the new floor because it needs an even surface, however, maintenance is very low because it doesn’t require any ice-making equipment or a Zamboni.
He said the most expensive type of synthetic flooring has the lubricant embedded in it, but he would recommend that Stellarton purchase the flooring and lubricant separate so that it can be applied when needed.
“If you don’t add the lubricant on it, it can be a great floor that only needs sweeping once a day,” he said. “It requires cleaning once a day and when you add lubricant, you are good for the day.”
He said the lubricant could be applied with a sweeper or even by hand with people on skates.
Since maintenance costs would be lower, Corbin said the rink could charge a lower rental rate and attract new groups, such as gentlemen league hockey players at lunchtime who are looking for quick, inexpensive pick-up game.
He said synthetic ice is as popular with figure skaters so the town might be able to attract a figure skating club to the arena and generate some new income.
It could also become an elite training centre for minor hockey, but he was doubtful that leagues would want to play games on the surface.
“It might become a premium practice facility in the county, but they might have to play games out of another rink. We could provide minor hockey with guaranteed practice times.”
According to a Hockey Nova Scotia spokesman, the governing body would not approve any games being played on synthetic surfaces at this time since more study would be needed on the subject. However, HNS said practices probably wouldn’t be a problem.
Corbin said there are no other facilities in Nova Scotia that currently use synthetic ice, but rural rinks in Newfoundland are putting in the new floor surface because of rising maintenance costs.
“They looked at their options and converted their ice to synthetic ice,” he said. “They have more options. You can do roller sports and bingo because it is a smooth surface and when you want to skate on it, you apply the lubricant.”
He said the company has told him the surface is incredibly durable for both skating and non-skating events because it is dense and hard. He said he could bring in a sample from the company for a demonstration so local skating groups could try it out.
Coun. Ken Francis said he doesn’t have a problem with demonstration, but he has concerns about putting a state-of-the-art floor in an old building that needs repairs.
“Pictures were taken of the rink two years ago of the building itself and I always go back to see if it is any better,” he said. “It is worse than the pictures. There is more daylight coming in through the building than before. The roof needed to be addressed and we did it, but the other repairs are a concern.”
Francis asked Corbin where he thinks the town would get the revenue to purchase $300,000 for a new floor, to which the recreation director replied there might be government grants the town can apply for to cover the cost.
“We have to look at our first priority,” said Francis. “There is no sense spending $300,000 if there is no building to support it.”
Coun. Denise Taylor said council should have an independent study done on the repairs needed at the rink before it considers putting in the new ice.
She also expressed concerns earlier in the meeting that the town had budgeted for $87,000 in ice rentals this fiscal year, but financial records show it only collected $27,000 so far.
Corbin agreed the rink is under-utilized, but said there are some outstanding bills with minor hockey that could bring the total up by an additional $15,000.
Taylor said financial statements for the rink in previous years at this time of year showed the arena usually had close to $60,000 in revenue coming in from ice rentals.
She said with only two months left in the skating season she is skeptical it will be able to meet its targeted budget.
Deputy Mayor George Megeney cautioned Taylor about the figures from this fiscal year, saying they shouldn’t pass judgment when there is still money to come into the rink’s bank account.
“I think we need actual figures on that with the outstanding balances listed,” he said. “If we don't have that we could be going around in circles.”
Council asked for an updated financial statement at its next commission meeting and gave Corbin the go-ahead to have demonstration of synthetic ice brought in so skaters and minor hockey groups could give it a try.
N.L. community enjoys rink year-round
In the winter of 2012, the residents of Appleton, N.L., opened their new outdoor skating arena with synthetic ice.
Jean-Ann Thompson, co-ordinator for the Town of Appleton, which is about 15 minutes away from Gander, said the surface itself is pretty much maintenance-free.
“We use the surface all year round,” she said. “In the winter it is mostly for skating, but in the summer it is used for ball hockey or roller blading.”
Thompson said she hasn't heard any complaints from residents using it and it is easy to lubricate with a hand sprayer. Once the lubricant is applied, she said, it can be used instantly.
However, she said, if they are going to have a skate, the town makes it clear to users that their skates have to be very sharp.
She said that it is swept about once day and given a good cleaning once a year.
“It’s a nice setup but there is not a roof over it,” she said. “So one day is wonderful and the next day it is covered with ice and snow.”
She said the town’s population is only 650 and it only has one full- and one part-time maintenance worker so its services are limited.
The town recently purchased a large snowblower to clear off the 55 x110 foot surface which is used mainly for recreational purposes. She said minor hockey is played out of the Gander arena.
The town is in the process is of fundraising for some sort of roof for the facility so residents can get more use out of it, she said. The rink cost the town $200,000, but the province paid for $135,000 of this cost through a recreation grant.
What the company says:
Synthetic ice is being used around the world, but Canada’s love of old-fashioned skating and ice hockey is making it difficult to accept change, said Tim Oldfield, owner of Smart Rink.
Oldfield said he has set up synthetic ice facilities in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Japan and even Appleton, N.L., but Nova Scotians are reluctant to try the product even though it will mean lesser maintenance costs for struggling arenas.
“People are always reluctant to try something new until they see that they do everything they can do on real ice,” he said. “They refuse to believe.”
He said thousands of people have tried out his product and have answered surveys with positive comments. He said some of the minor complaints are that skates dull more quickly than on real ice because of its dense make-up, but he knows of professional and amateur athletes who use it for training.
Like any other product, he said people get what they pay for. Surfaces on the high end of the product line can offer the real ice experience without the ongoing maintenance of operating a refrigeration plant.
“It’s not real ice, but it’s pretty darn good,” he said. “People are mildly surprised. It’s not as effortless as real ice, but it’s pretty good.”
Oldfield said people have gotten creative with their synthetic floors and where they put them. He said in addition to skating, they are used for lacrosse and roller blading.
“Almost no rinks make money, but it’s a cost a community is willing to endure because it provides recreation,” he said. “This gives a community a way to keep a rink.”