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The city's website has a brand new feature on the outdoor rinks page: a column that tells skaters which rinks have a change room and washrooms and which rinks don't. The only problem is that it's not telling the whole story. All of the city's compressor-cooled rinks have change rooms and washrooms -- only some of them have been kept locked for years. The city's "state of good repair" budget has often been used for tearing down solid buildings and replacing them with shiny new ones. Sometimes even the shiny new ones are kept locked, for example at Queensway Rink and Sherbourne Rink. A sad example of squandered resources.
to City rink manager James Dann, cc General Manager Jim Hart, Ward 18 City Councillor Ana Bailao, West central rink supervisor Mark Culligan, 311, City Councillor Jaye Robinson.
Thank you for your interest in responding. As much as Mark may wish to present the 311/website information as helpful and accurate, the evidence is very mixed. As we have documented in other years, once again this year there has been too much wrong information. A few examples:
- On Thursday Dec.27 2012 at 5 pm, Nathan Phillips Rink was still listed as "closed -- snow removal in progress" when in fact it had been cleared of snow in the morning and had skaters all day. Other rinks listed as "closed" that day when they were actually open were Dufferin, Wallace, Harry Gairey -- those are only the ones we know of, there must have been more
- On Friday Dec.28 at 10 am, 311 still listed many of those rinks as closed. The website was finally changed at 10.15, almost 24 hours after the last change -- during the winter's main school holidays!
- On January 1, all day long, most city rinks were listed discouragingly as "open - no maintenance" although in fact many had excellent ice resurfacing maintenance that day
- On Friday, January 11 at 12 noon, Toronto rinks appeared to have been divided into three different weather systems. All Etobicoke and east central rinks were listed as "operational," all north region rinks were listed as "closed," and all west central rinks were listed as "water covered, nets removed." Dufferin Rink was never water covered that day, and the nets never had to be removed. There must have been others like Dufferin, as long as the staff were doing ice maintenance. (BTW, in low-sun early January, the nets don't sink much anyway, even when it's warm out -- in the case of compressor-cooled rinks.)
At rinks where the staff were NOT doing ice maintenance there was no way even for rink program staff to find out why not. As you know, Parks has reverted to keeping ice maintenance staff phone numbers a secret from on-site program staff -- one of a number of remarkable dysfunctions in the city's outdoor rink practices. The dysfunction highlighted in this email is even sillier -- hiding individual rink phone numbers from the skating public, who could use those numbers to find out the real ice conditions at the rink of their choice. Onsite staff could update the individual rink phone messages as conditions change (they have lots of time). They wouldn't even have to relate to the public personally, if that makes them uncomfortable.
For the record.
Please see the following from Mark Culligan the area supervisor. Thanks again for your interest in our Artificial Ice Rink Program.
Good day Jutta.
On Friday January 11, 2012, we experienced a day of warmer then seasonal temperatures with a downfall of rain through out the day. The forecast was for continual rainy periods that day. During these conditions the rinks do end up with a water cover in which rink staff work continuously in eliminating the excess water in order to provide the public a good ice surface. Staff remove the nets from the hockey pads while these conditions occur to prevent indentations to the ice surface caused by the formation of the excess water around the net areas. The conditions change as the rain comes to a demise and the nets are put back in place by the staff, or at times by the members of the public anxious to play, sometimes prematurely. On the date referred to, the nets were removed to prevent damage and would only be put back on by staff for the time periods which allowed so where no possible damage to the surface would be a threat. On this day the condition of rain was sporadic and the nets were placed and then removed again when warranted. It was felt that rather then having hockey players come to the rinks to find the nets off during these times of rain, rinks would be listed as "no nets", allowing players to come with a understanding that the nets would be missing at times of the rain water accumulations.
It's January thaw time, almost every year the same -- 12 degrees and hazy sun at 2 pm, no problem for compressor-cooled outdoor rinks. Harbourfront is hopping, so is City Hall -- but four North York rinks have been closed for two days, eight central Toronto rinks have now closed as well. Why? At this low-sun time of the year, there may be a thin layer of water on the ice, but there's no mush and no damage to the surface. What's needed, though, is for the ice resurfacing machines to get out there and take off the water. So what are the rink operators doing at the rinks that are closed?
At $29 to $34 an hour, they could be out there with their Zambonis or Olympias, using those tools to make sure the rinks are available to the public. The fact that they are content to put up a sign saying "closed," and stay in their offices, is remarkable. Who's paying attention...?
Happily, many other rinks are still open (with the same compressor power as the closed ones).
It looks like the South west rink supervisor posted the outdoor rink web update without direct knowledge http://www.toronto.ca/parks/skating/outdoor-rinks.htm. The rinks which are marked "water covered surface - no hockey nets" are NOT water covered and they do have hockey nets, which has been the situation all day so far. These rinks have cooling systems which can handle the amount of rain so far, and the ice resurfacing machines have the capacity to remove water (always important in case rain makes the ice get too thick).
I assume there will be no acknowledgment of this error, as there was none to my other e-mails, but for the record.....
Here's an important note from a city rink operator, to all midnight shinny players across the city:
Being a 7th generation Canadian, I completely understand that any frozen puddle is consider fair game for hockey. That explains why, even though Albert Campbell closes at 10pm, we have an exodus of shinny players at the rink after that. The unfortunate security guards have a hard time indeed, enforcing the rules. Regardless, my request is: could you write a blog to these shinny players about leaving pucks and water bottles on the ice? These two items play havoc on a zamboni's inner guts by plugging up the augers, which are very difficult to unplug. It's bad when there has been light snow, hiding any garbage left on the ice. Could you ask those desperate Canadian shinny players to clean up after they are finished? That would be appreciated by all ice maintenance attendants.
Chaos and confusion:
Confusion: At 10 a.m. Friday Dec.28, on a perfect skating day in the Christmas holidays, the city's website still lists many rinks as "closed" because of 10 cm snow overnight on Wednesday (see website snapshot).
Not true, happily. But the city's policy is to hide the individual rink phone numbers in favour of centralizing information on the web and through one phone number -- 311. The website is almost 24 hours out of date and at 10.20 am the 311 line has no more recent information.
Chaos: Yesterday at Dufferin Rink some of the rink attendant staff had been double-booked to other rinks, and so the in-charge staff was forced to run the rink mainly with volunteer help from kids. Dufferin Rink is one of the busiest rinks in the city. This year its management changed -- costing more, earning less in food-and-skate-loan donations, alienating rink users and resulting in untrained or absent staff. Most management staff are on holiday -- is anybody paying attention?
It costs over $3 million a season to run all these outdoor rinks. On the main winter holidays, to save $100 per location on a rink guard, most of the rinks are operating at half-mast. On Boxing Day, most ice surfaces are unlocked, and many have had some ice maintenance, but only a few have access to a warm change room or to the washrooms. Between 12.30 and 2 pm, we visited some of the rinks that were listed on the city website as open.
At Withrow Rink, the central change room was open and warm. There was no rink staff person and the side change rooms were locked, but the washrooms were open too. The change area was so packed with skaters that they had to take turns to sit down. Despite the sign, lots of neighbourhood skaters had figured out that the rink was open on Boxing Day -- as promised on the city's website.
At Monarch Rink, although the city's website had this rink on its "open for Boxing Day" list, there's a family changing out of their skates on the ground in front of the locked change room door. There are no benches to sit on outside, either. There is one skater on the ice with a hockey stick, one woman just leaving, and the family are leaving too. A sign on the door says the rink is closed on Boxing Day.
At Dufferin and Wallace Rinks, there were lots of people at both rinks, and more arriving every minute -- the change rooms at both rinks were very full, but people looked cheerful, maybe excited about the coming snowstorm.
On December 23, holiday hours as listed on the city's website, are a cliffhanger, although they may still change. Most rinks are marked as closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year's Day. This is despite the fact that all three days are popular days for family outings. Here are some photos from other years:
The Globe and Mail, in its Dec.22 "what to do on the holidays" Toronto section, mentions that Colonel Sam Smith Rink is closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, whereas Harbourfront Rink "will be closing at 5 pm on Christmas Day." The other days are open during regular hours. Harbourfront's management recognizes that many people in Toronto don't celebrate Christmas -- their high holidays are on other dates -- and those who do celebrate, often want to work off their Christmas dinner or enjoy the outdoors with their families and friends.
But if they show up at their neighbourhood rink, chances are they'll find the gates locked -- except (according to the city's website on Dec.23 at 11 a.m.) at City Hall, Wallace Rink, Dufferin Rink, Harry Gairey Rink, Sherbourne Commons Rink, Hodgson Rink, and Campbell Rink. Of note: a pre-amalgamation pattern continues: rinks in Etobicoke, North York, and the single rink in Scarborough, offer much less public access than those in the former core. But they all cost roughly the same (in taxes) to run.
Dufferin Rink is open, but only just. Lots of people, and the ice is still very thin in places. A man was there from Kalamazoo, Michigan. He said he and his kids tried West Mall and Rennie, but neither were open. Harbourfront opened November 17.
Last week, when rink workers were hosing the rink in bright sunlight, I said: "Why?" One of the workers said, "can you try saying something positive, just once?"
My arguments about the city's ice-making are often dismissed as just my negative personality. It reminds me of a story from Sabina, one of the women on the Thorncliffe Women's Committee. Those women have been working for four years to fix their little local park/town square. Sabina told me she recently asked the Park supervisor when the park's burned-out lights would be fixed. He said, "every time I see you, you ask me for something!"
Oh dear. And for this he is paid over $90,000 a year.
For twelve years, rink friends have tried to persuade city staff to return to the sensible outdoor rink season -- from mid-November to the end of February. Those are the lowest-sun months when compressor-cooled outdoor ice rinks work the best. But once again the city schedule is from the end of November into the second week of March.
Outdoor rinks are best opened in mid-November and closed at the end of Feb (that's how they used to be run) but that's not how Toronto City Hall sees it at present. For comparison -- the outdoor rink in NYC's Central Park opened today -- low low sun at this time of year is what makes it easy to make and keep compressor-cooled outdoor ice.