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For the past thirteen years, our small charitable public space group, the Centre for Local Research into Public Space (CELOS), has run a website called cityrinks.ca. It deals with Torontoís unusually large number of compressor-cooled outdoor ice rinks (53), most of them municipally owned. More recently, our website has also documented a variable number of natural ice rinks, both community-built and on frozen water. We donít write about indoor arenas. By now, this website is a richly-detailed archive of ice-making and skating and winter sociability in Toronto. We offer this report to share what we feel are the current challenges to the outdoor rinks, and what solutions are available. We'll start with the summary list, and then back it up with the detailed stories.
Challenge: low attendance at many rinks
Fixes: make rinks more comfortable, have family-friendly social spaces, add snack bars, skate lending, better publicity, outreach e.g. to schools, places of worship, agencies with newcomer groups etc.
Challenge: rinks that have few public hours or are not well known in their neighbourhoods
Fixes: increase drop-in hours for rinks that are low, set up skate lending, put in direct phone lines for better communication.
Challenge: environmental, i.e. too much energy use relative to number of skaters
Fix: modify outdoor rink season to fit the sun (return all but Nathan Phillips and Greenwood rinks to mid-November/first-Sunday-in-March)
Fixes: use staff better, set up skate lending and food for income generation
Challenge: insufficient and uninteresting workload for staff
Fixes: restructure the job descriptions to be broader and more challenging, require better performance (e.g. get ice in on time at beginning of season, run more varied programming), allow staff to collaborate, acknowledge and reward successes
Challenge: central one-size-fits-all management
Fixes: experiment with modified local outdoor rinks boards of management, 50/50 decisions between staff and rink friends e.g. for timing of season, hours of operation, permits, programs. Evaluate according to user numbers
The City of Toronto outdoor rink website says that 36 of the outdoor rinks will open on Nov.28. 14 others will open on Dec.5.
Both city hall (Nathan Phillips) and Harbourfront had plenty of ice already by Nov.23. That's because they started doing their night-time floods on Friday or Saturday, seven days before opening day. None of the other 35 city rinks started their ice-making before Nov.24 -- four days before the rinks were supposed to open.
In Etobicoke, there were some 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. ice-making shifts. So they already had some ice thickness on Wednesday morning. Some downtown rinks (for example, Ramsden) were just starting to put water down on Wednesday evening -- three days before opening day! -- and it looked like the staff all went home at 11pm. So on Saturday, many rinks may not be open, or if they are open, they'll have very rough ice. The blame will probably be shifted onto the weather, or even onto global warming -- not on substandard technique, which is the real problem.
Warm weather in late November has not been unusual historically -- see our almost-70-year temperature chart. Even so, for many years, the City of Toronto's municipal outdoor ice rinks successfully opened mid-November, after four days of night floods (no longer the practice). They always closed on the closest Sunday to March 1, when outdoor ice is no longer practical because the sun gets too high.
LeFrak Ice Rink in Prospect Park NYC has been open since October 31.
But whatever collective knowledge there was about ice-making in the 1990's seems to have faded out. Thursday November 26 was cloudy but the high was 15 celsius. It would have been good to have a bit more ice, and it would have been good, also, if that ice had been laid down and frozen in thin sheets instead of two or three massive floodings on Wednesday (that's what happened at many of the downtown rinks). "Many thin layers" is the standard. Pointing the hose straight down so that the water breaks up the new ice is not the standard. But that's also what happens a lot.
In the evening of Nov.26 it was still 15 degrees, but at Dufferin Rink the rink staff came around 8 pm and gave the rink a heavy flooding. So at 9 pm it was still mostly water. Meanwhile the forecast calls for lots of rain overnight and tomorrow in the daytime.
Is it possible that, after all these years of skaters trying to promote better ice-making, many of the next round of staff still somehow don't get how ice is made on compressor-cooled cement?