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Monday Outdoor Rink Report #6, December 28, 2009

Attendance: The first week of the school holidays was unusually busy at most of the rinks we visited, except when it rained. There were still some rinks that seemed to be empty or almost empty when we checked even in good weather, for example Glen Long (north), Jimmie Simpson (east) and College Park (downtown). Two of the possible reasons are long-standing and simple: a lack of public information (right down to basic signage) and unpleasant or unsafe rink clubhouse arrangements that can be easily improved.

Hours of operation confusion: although the general manager wrote to say that communication between Parks and Recreation concerning the rinks is excellent, the evidence is not there. 311 gave the open hours that the Parks director provided to us (see excerpt from his e-mail). But the city website leisure skating page links the different open hours that match the Recreation (spreadsheet). Our sample rink, Christie Pits, was locked although it was supposed to be open on Boxing Day, and has a notice posted that it will be locked on New Year's Day as well (contradicting the parks director's schedule). We assume that there are more rinks that don't conform to the 311 information.

Ice maintenance standards:
1. The good news: Wallace Rink has been scheduled for three resurfacings a day, with the last resurfacing in the evening during the heavy-use time. On one day (Tuesday Dec.23) this happened, and hopefully it will happen again on most days beginning this week.
2. The bad news: Boxing Day was to have 416 ice maintenance staff from 10 to 6 (see attached schedule from the Parks director). Because of all the rain overnight and in the morning, water removal was urgent on that day. At many rinks, the ice is already well over 3 inches thick in places, and immediate removal of water is far more effective than waiting for it to freeze and shaving it down later. (Thick ice reduces compressor efficiency and adds to fuel costs. Many zambonis can suck in water; the rest can sweep it.)

However, by 1 pm on Boxing Day, 45 minutes after the rain had stopped, there was still no ice maintenance crew in sight at Ward 18 rinks. They came after my complaint to rink staff, but several were visibly unhappy. [See note below: "Intimidation."] At other sample rinks (Glen Long and Christie Pits) there was no water removal at all. At Giovanni Caboto the zamboni driver said he wanted the extra water to freeze onto the rink so it would be more level, so he intended to keep the zamboni off.

At Campbell, Dufferin and Wallace Rinks, recreation staff used green shovels and a hose to sweep water off the ice when the ice maintenance staff didn't come all morning. The memory of the 7-inch ice in 2006, and all the associated problems citywide, is too fresh to just let that happen again.
Solution: train outdoor ice maintenance staff on the need to remove water during and immediately after rain. Suggestion: send them for training to the excellent ice maintenance crew at Rennie Rink.

Confusion about Local 416 hours:
1. Staff scheduling: The Parks director said the Boxing Day hours for ice maintenance were 10 to 6. However the ice maintenance foreperson said that they were checking the ice at 7 am. Another report was that the shift had been changed to 9 to 5, which gave less time to do remediation in the afternoon. Were the actual hours changed to 7 to 3, or 8 to 4, for the Local 416 crews? Were some staff at home on standby because of the rain? Does anyone know?
2. Staff training: One of the three ice maintenance staff who came to Dufferin Rink at 1.30 on Boxing Day was being trained. Is a stat holiday the most economical day to schedule new staff for training?
3. Last maintenance before Christmas Day: the last ice maintenance on Christmas Eve at the Ward 18 rinks was at 2.30. Gar Mahood from Ramsden Rink reported that there was evidently no Dec.24 evening ice maintenance there, so that they had to cancel their Christmas day neighborhood shinny hockey game. Giovanni Caboto, however, seemed to have less snow on the ice on Christmas morning, suggesting later ice maintenance on Christmas Eve. Were there different schedules?

Intimidation: When they arrived at the Ward 18 rinks after my complaint on Boxing Day, some of the ice maintenance crew seemed upset and angry. At Wallace Rink, the zamboni drove so fast along the path from the rink to the trailer that I was forced to get off the path quickly with my bike, to avoid being hit. This was after eye contact had been made with the driver. Ten minutes later at Campbell Rink I saw the same thing happen as the zamboni drove onto the rink from the parked trailer -- the recreation staff had to jump out of the way. I am told that this staff person has filed a complaint. Over the years, some ice maintenance staff have said that they are the ones being intimidated, by the requests for better ice maintenance. This feeling can best be addressed by more hands-on supervisions and clearer direction about the need for energetic ice maintenance at outdoor rinks. $3.2 million of our taxes ought to buy that. So should triple-time-and-a-half for the zamboni crew scheduled to work on stat holidays.

Jutta Mason

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