An expert in rink refrigeration systems believes Stellarton council made the right decision to close its rink.
Art Sutherland, president of Accent Refrigeration Design, who has worked in more than 300 rinks across North America, grew up in Stellarton. During a return a visit in September, he toured the shuttered Stellarton rink to offer an expert opinion on whether it could be repaired in a cost-effective way. What he found backs a report given to council by SNC Lavalin last year which stated there are serious liabilities with the rink that would be costly to repair. That SNC Lavalin report had prompted the town to close the facility after the 2018-19 season.
“My personal feeling, given the age and condition of The Stellarton Memorial Arena, is that the high costs that would be required to keep it operating efficiently and safely would just not be worth the effort on an otherwise very old facility,” Sutherland wrote in a letter to the Town of Stellarton dated Nov. 29, 2019.
“The facility has provided the community with many years of service and without a doubt there will be a lot of folks very attached to its history including myself,” Sutherland wrote.
But from a pragmatic standpoint, he said the entire refrigeration system is well past its useful life.
He said the compressor is dated and the chiller is a high-charge version, which because of its age, is at risk for potential failure.
“If the chiller developed a tube leak it can potentially create a very dangerous situation as was recently experienced in a 28-year-old chiller in Fernie, B.C., with the tragic loss of life of three workers,” he stated.
“Given the advanced age of all the components and the potential risk to the workers and patrons, I would generally recommend a complete system replacement if the goal was to prolong the life of the facility.”
Another huge cost would be to replace the refrigerated floor of the rink.
“The refrigerated floor is in very poor shape and was not done correctly when it was last replaced 41 years ago,” Sutherland said.
Stellarton Mayor Danny MacGillivray said the rink closure has been the biggest issue his council has had to deal with since he was elected and it was a decision the town didn’t make lightly. He believes they’ve made the right decision and thinks this latest expert opinion attests to that. Given what they know, he said there would be incredible liability for the town to try to open the rink. To repair it would require a substantial use of taxpayer dollars that he believes would be better used elsewhere.
“I think the rink has nothing left to give. It has served our town well for 72 years," MacGillivray said. "It’s time to let it rest. The rink may no longer be operational, but the memories that were made there will last a lifetime.”
Last March, the Town of Stellarton council agreed to give a citizens group until February 2020 to investigate whether there was a way to keep the Stellarton rink alive.
On Dec. 3, Darren Stroud, a spokesperson for the group, offered the following update to The News.
"Time and effort of the Citizens Group continues to be time and effort well spent toward understanding the issues and identifying potential and practical ways of addressing the issues facing the aged facility,” Stroud stated. “Community support from both citizens and business is clear and has shown up in tremendous ways. Trades and craftspeople, as well as engineers, are among those who have stepped forward to contribute their pro bono expertise.”
He said in the spring, a core sampling of the building foundation was taken and tested for integrity by a leading engineering firm in the Halifax Regional Municipality. He said the citizens group arranged this because it seemed like a prudent first step before the group or any members of the community devoted further effort toward the cause.
“The Citizens Group has made valuable discoveries and continues to work diligently incorporating insight gained from contributed expertise. We will all agree that this is an old building requiring repair. The question to be settled is whether or not there is an affordable and practical pathway available to keeping this indoor facility and memorial dear to the heart of many. We look forward to sharing what we’ve learned with the Town and community over the time remaining before the February 2020 deadline kindly granted by Town Council in March of 2019."
Given what he knows, MacGillivray believes the building will probably be demolished for safety reasons in the future. He said the town has no plans to sell the land, though, and said if they do tear the building down, they’d like to keep it for some sort of recreational purpose.
“We plan on maintaining it and having some sort of legacy that recognizes the veterans and miners who built it,” MacGillivray said.