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The mechanics came to do their pre-season check of the rink's compressor room today. One of them leaned up against the giant ammonia tank, and it moved. He must have jumped pretty high. That tank sits in a heavy steel cribbing, and it weighs quite a few tons. The mechanics looked up at the ceiling and saw that the tank was hanging from the brine pipes that lead into the tank, and actually swaying an inch or two above the cribbing. A look at the floor showed why: the floor had sunk. All around the edges of the room, where the wall used to meet the floor, there was an extra one to two inches of unpainted block, That’s where the floor pulled away as it sank. The worst sinking was under the ammonia tank, where the floor was about three inches lower than it had been.
The mechanics raised the alarm.
CSBI coming to check gas lines, building closed to all outside events. The CIMCO compressor company came to drain the ammonia from the tank yesterday, and more city staff came to inspect the situation. The mechanics were saying that the compressors ought to be removed, the floor broken up, and a new floor laid with stable footings and properly compressed earth. Then the machinery can be reassembled and the rink can open. It sounded as though this might take three or four weeks of concentrated work. But it will cost a lot of money no one has budgeted for. So there was lots of talk, but nobody wants to make such an expensive decision.
This morning there was a big cement truck outside the rink house, with six-inch PVC pipes running into the compressor room. Lots of people in hard hats. Somebody wanted to try a cheaper solution, so they got a cement company to come and drill some holes in the floor of the compressor room and they were pumping grout under the floor in there. Lots of grout went in – there must have been a lot of empty space underneath the floor.
All of a sudden some gray grout oozed up out of the drain hole in the centre of the women’s washroom. It was first a trickle, and then there was more and more.
Big commotion – the cement truck was turned off right away, they asked Lily where to attach some hoses, and within minutes they had their guys spraying water into that drain.
But then the grout, mixed with water, started coming up the men’s washroom drains, and then the old men came out from the change room where they were playing cards, and showed us where grout was coming up one of the drains in there.
A couple of the hard hat guys were on their cell phones, one them shouting: where is our City Property contact? We need the building blueprints, right now!
They wanted to find out where other the pipes were, but nobody could find the blueprints. They had been pumping the grout into the ground blind, without blueprints!
It took another hour before the blueprints could be located, and then it seemed like some of the sewer markings on the drawings didn’t correspond with what was built. But the plumber says that the drains go north from the rink house. By the end of the afternoon, we could see from the expressions on people’s faces that the events of the day were a catastrophe.
The drains have stopped oozing, but only because the grout has set – in an unknown number of the sewer pipes under the rink house floor.
No more activity on the weekend, then today CSBI was in filming the drain pipes. They found out that the City’s information about the drains is wrong. They lead out the west, not the north, of the rink house.
Two people from CIMCO, the company that installed the compressors six years ago, came today to assess the floor. There were two big holes where the grouting company crew have started excavating around the plugged-up drain pipes. So it’s easy to see what’s under the compressor floor now. One thing is rubble – they took out half a toilet when they were digging. The CIMCO guy said, you can see one of the problems right there. The builder built on top of rubble. You can’t do that, with the weight and vibration of these compressors.
He told the City Property people that, while there might not be any further sinking, he could not guarantee that.
Saturday, but the CSBI workers are still drilling holes in the floor. City Property sent in a guy to take some soil samples under the compressor room floor, to test ground compaction. The guy was an engineer from the same company that had done samples the year the rink was re built. He said that his company was asked to do soil soundings in 1992, for the rink surface area but not for under the rink house, because the City had originally planned to leave the rink house standing. Then they changed their plans and decided to knock down and rebuild the rink house too, but they didn't ask for more engineering help from the soil people.
The engineer also said that each of the machines should have had its own footings, i.e. foundation, and that's what they would have recommended. Then he showed us the concrete where a hole had been dug and said, see, this was supposed to be six inches thick and it's three, or four at the most. Later we saw that other parts of the floor had more, but probably not more than four and a half inches. The thinnest part was near the ammonia tank where the floor had sunk worst. He also said there was an empty space right under the middle of the floor where the soil was just gone.
The CIMCO guy told Lily that the machines vibrated too much right from the beginning, presumably because the floor was not steady enough. For that reason they advised the city not to accept the work when it was finished, but the City did accept it. There muat have been pressure to get the rink open.
The soil engineer drilled three cores and put them in containers and took them away with him. He said that it would take a week for the soil samples to be tested.
No more word on the rink. The only action is the constant drilling by the grouting company crew, uncovering all the pieces of sewer pipe that are plugged with solidified grout and need replacing. Lily gives the crew cookies and juice and coffee. They’re working really hard, and they’re frustrated: every time they drill a new section they find a new grout plug. The rink house washrooms look like Swiss cheese.
But that doesn’t address the problem of how to make the rink work again. I called the City Councillor’s office to ask them if they can push this along. The work that needs to be done is pretty clear, whatever the soil samples turn out to show.
The soil samples at the rink are done. They don’t show much that isn’t already obvious. They still have no plan to begin fixing the rink. They set another site meeting for today at 10 a.m.
Letter to the City Councillor’s office: “This letter concerns the sinking floor at the Dufferin artificial ice rink building. You are already aware of the problem but since there has been very little action, we are hoping that a letter might summarize the situation in a more compelling way…..As we enter the third week of this situation, it's our impression that there is still no clear plan. There is talk about not opening the rink at all this season. How sad that would be.…..'
Rink fact sheet, and posted in various places in the park.
Dufferin Grove Park Rink closure: information sheet
-At the end of October it was discovered that the rink house floor under the ice-making machinery is sinking. The rink at Dufferin Grove Park is only six years old. It seems that the ground was not compacted properly when the concrete floor was poured.* Until the machinery room floor is stable, no ice can be made.
- To properly rebuild the floor under the machinery, all the machines have to be disassembled and the floor has to be broken up. Then the earth has to be compacted, firmly this time, a new floor has to be poured, and the machinery has to be reassembled. This will probably take between 4-6 weeks and cost between $70,000 and $100,000.
- In an effort to save money and fix the problem faster, holes were drilled in the floor and grout was pumped in. During this procedure one of the pipes cracked and grout (a cement-like material) went all through the drains. Huge holes have been dug in almost every room to find the blocked drains. That's why the clubhouse is not usable.
No decision has been made yet on how to proceed. To find out more, or give your opinion, call Councillor Joe Pantalone at 392-4009 and Councillor Mario Silva at 392-7012.
*Although some people thought the sinking floor might be caused by an underground creek, that's not likely. The creek was put in a sewer under Dufferin Street over a hundred years ago. The rink house sits on the highest part of the park, where the creek never flowed, and the rink house before this one stood there for 30 years without sinking.
The City Councillor’s assistant called this afternoon and said not to worry. After a few minutes it was obvious that he knew much less than we did.
From Jutta: I called Mario Zanetti first thing this morning. He had heard about the rink, but he said he’s just been watching from a distance. I asked him, “can you make this repair go?” He said, “officially, no. In the amalgamated government I don’t have anything to do with the capital budget. But let me see what I can do.”
First signs of progress. An engineer came to the rink this morning from a company that makes steel supports, and he took lots of measurements around the compressors. He left a booklet with us, showing his company’s products. There were pictures of crooked houses before and after this company’s supports had been installed under the foundations. In every case the houses were saved. Nice.
Guys came this afternoon and began to break up the cement around the base of the compressors with jackhammers. The rink is incredibly noisy with all the jackhammers, but to us the noise is music. Hopefully this activity is a good sign. Since the City managers won’t talk to us directly about the plans, we’ve got to interpret signs, like in a foreign country.
The compressor-room work is well and truly started now.
The sewer work seems to be almost done too, and a few of the holes have been filled in. The rink house is still out of bounds for the kids, but no matter – there are people drilling in the compressor room and the mood has changed to action. Wonderful. Lily keeps everyone posted and makes a lot of coffee.
The steel supports, called “helical piers,” in the rink compressor room are all done. There are big steel railings around the compressors, buttressed from underneath. The holes in the compressor room are mostly filled in and the floor is being poured tomorrow. Don Eastwood, the City Property supervisor, comes once or twice a day, sometimes oftener. He told Lily last week that it might be another two weeks before the rink can open. But today he says it might even be sooner. CIMCO has tested the machines and say they’re running well.
The rink operators are here making ice. Everyone’s in a good mood – the rink’s going to open in three days. A flooring guy came today and tried to put the old rubber tiles back over the new cement where all the holes were dug. It looks a bit rough in spots, but who cares?
From Jutta: Opening day, with a rink full of skaters. I wrote up a thank-you letter to Don Eastwood, the project supervisor, and started collecting signatures.
It’s an interesting feeling – I approach people asking them to sign a letter and they brace themselves, thinking they’re having to make some moral decision about a petition. Then I say, “it’s a thank-you letter for the City guy who got the rink fixed.” People’s faces relax and they take the pen. As I walk around the rink house, I get to tell the story over and over, the drama, the suspense, the steel supports, Don Eastwood urging the workmen on so that they actually finish ahead of expectation. People call their kids over, “here, sign this!”
There’s an appetite for a happy ending, for the pleasure of affirming something that worked out instead of protesting about the many things that don’t work.
Some of the troublemakers are back too. They walk in and come up to the snack bar and say “hi, we’re back! How are you? How’s it going?” – looking so pleased. Some of them have assured us that they’re older now and much more mature and they won’t be any trouble this year, “just watch us.” I’m sort of flabbergasted. It’s clear that they are really, genuinely happy to see Lily and me and the rink guards they recognize. I thought they were a pain in the neck and they thought we were their family? They brag about “their rink” and how it’s nicer than any of the others, and how they’re going to help keep order this year and make sure that all the “younger kids” understand that.
If I saw a scene like this in a movie I would think it’s too mushy to be believable.
The women’s toilet won’t flush. The grout company came and found out that there’s still a blockage in the pipes outside the rink house that lead down to the main City sewer. They sent in a crew to drill outside. We couldn’t find anyone at City Property who’s in charge – too close to Christmas. Nightmare!
Don Eastwood downplayed it at first, and then went off sick. No wonder. Meantime the guys with the jackhammers outside dug out ten feet of sewer pipe – it was about 90% blocked with grout.
City people came to do an emergency utilities stakeout of the area all the way down to Dufferin Street, so that the grout company can send in a tractor to excavate more pipe. Lily was given a City Property contact number in case this problem carries on through Christmas. The grout company have brought in their tractor, and the crew have just kept on digging and busting up the sewage pipe with the jackhammers. They got almost to the street when they stopped for the evening. The washrooms are shut down and there’s an awful smell in the water-heater room. But the ice is fine and people can still skate.
Tonight we met the new City rinks supervisor for the first time. Two minutes after we shook hands he ordered two girls off the ice where they were sliding in shoes. They were the only people on the pleasure-skating side. The ice was due for a scrape and very unslippery. We told the supervisor that we could see no problem with them having some fun sliding. He quickly got exasperated and said "this place is SUCH a JOKE!" All of a sudden it was a tense situation. We got a lecture on the fundamentals of safety. Horrible.
The diggers came back this morning. They finally found the end of the grout blockage – only about four feet from the sidewalk, i.e. just before they would have had to give the job over to the jurisdiction of Public Works. The crew laid the new pipe themselves, and filled in the trench. So the problem is over. But they left at noon without talking to anyone inside the building. That meant the staff didn't know until much later that there was running water again and that the bathrooms could be opened. There were so many people here!
Everything is a separate department, and who cares if people at the rink are put to extra trouble? Such inefficient rudeness. People frustrate each other in every direction, and you can see it on their faces, hear it straining their voices.
With such a set-up, the wonder of it is not how much doesn’t work, but that anything works at all. Yet it does – the rink is there, the people are skating, the cheeks are rosy, and it’s almost Christmas. Season’s Greetings.
The best rink operator in the city was talking about the rink supervisor’s comment that “this place is such a joke.” He felt that the supervisor must have meant the whole department is a joke, because he's got an awful job. The rink operator said that when he worked as foreperson he'd give somebody a verbal warning for being a slob and they'd just book off for three days. That put the rinks so short of operators that next time they'd let the slobs get away with anything. He also said that when he used the rink tractor to dig out Scadding Rink after last year's big snowstorm, he was reprimanded because it wouldn't look good to be ploughing a rink and not roads, even though their tractor wasn’t needed for the roads. Appearances count.
A few more hours of passing the thank-you letter around have yielded about 300 signatures. That’s enough. The letter's in the mail to Don’s boss with a request to pass it along. The text of the letter:
We would like to thank you and your department for your successful efforts to have our rink repaired in time for the Christmas holidays.
After the first repair attempt was unsuccessful, we became pessimistic. During the month when a course of action was being worked out, it seemed at times that Dufferin Rink wouldn't open at all this season. But once the repairs were begun, they went along with wonderful efficiency. We truly appreciate how smoothly the various contractors were scheduled, and how hard they worked from November 26 to the middle of December. The people you got together managed to get the rink ready to open even before the projected date you gave. What a feat of organization by your department!
We are aware that doing the rink repair in the 1999 year added another expense to the city's already over-stretched budget. But we think it was worth it. The rink has been busy ever since it re-opened. It is a precious public resource for our neighbourhood. Thanks to you efforts, we have the enjoyment of it for the rest of the winter.
…and then all the signatures, many with friendly comments. Lots of kids signed it and drew hearts. The letter looked great.
The great big rink-repair thank you card with the three hundred signatures, must have arrived. From Don Eastwood’s boss John Murray:
"I have had the pleasure and privilege of working for the City of Toronto for 28 years and let me say letters like yours are few and far between. It is very nice to know our efforts are appreciated and it gives our "team" a special tonic when people respond in this fashion."
Every evening after the rink house closes and the staff go home, the powerful rink lights are switched off by the timer. Then the rink is lit by moonlight and by the street-lights on either side of it. Since the middle of the month, with Tino’s blessing, the rink guards have been leaving the gates to the pleasure-skating side unlocked and people come to skate in the quiet park. It’s beautiful, a bit like skating on the pond. Some of the other City’s rinks don’t even have a fence around them, and people go there and skate after their lights go off too.
Last day. Lily did the rink census, from December 18 when the rink opened, to today. Attendance this winter was very high again. Many weeks we had over 1500 visits, and a few times as high as 2400. And this year the number of times we’ve had to seek help for troublesome rink users is down to three. From 21 to 9 to 3 – so much better than we would have predicted, on some of those long dark evenings when everything seemed so nasty.