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Monday outdoor rink report #10, January 25, 2010

1. Interactive web results: the website allows people to mail in their comments and concerns. We're not as quick as we'd like to be, in responding. However, there have been some pretty fast turnarounds, whenever there is a receptive person at the City, willing to fix the problem. Some examples of good outcomes:
a) Monarch Rink, east Toronto -- a rink user wrote that the rink was always locked in the mornings, and he works shifts as a newspaper editor, so he wanted to start off with a skate. Within a day the rink began to be unlocked in the mornings, and the editor said he was skating daily, and and so were others.
b) Westway Rink, Etobicoke -- a father said that adults were taking over the parent-child shinny time, "every Saturday the same problem," and within two days the Active Living supervisor directed his staff to follow the schedule.
c) Rosedale Rink central Toronto - twenty skaters were very disappointed on a Saturday morning to find the rink unmaintained and snowy: "the city has fallen short this year consistently on service." The next morning the ice was excellent and the rink user wrote back: "20 skaters had a dream-like high level shinny game...."
d) Greenwood Rink, east Toronto: this double-pad rink was kept locked until 1 pm, six days a week, was changed to be like the other double pads. Two weeks after a rink user raised this as a problem, extra building staff were added, to allow the rink to open earlier.

2. Information:
a) The city website is glacially slow to change wrong information. For example, on Jan.11 a rink user wrote in about the error in Women's beginner shinny at Ramsden Rink, putting it on the wrong night. The error was acknowledged. But on Jan.25 it had not been corrected.
b) 311: We didn't check much after the holidays, since the weather has been so stable. But on Monday Jan.25 it rained, and then the information was unreliable.

In a case of uncertainty and reporting lag, the best thing is if 311 can give the on-site phone number to the caller. There's improvement in that area -- we asked about five Toronto/East York rinks, and three of the numbers were on-site rink numbers. However, for many rinks the numbers are still unavailable.

3. Events permits: the regular winter events at Dufferin and Wallace Rinks were supposed to follow the special events format this year. That caused confusion and unhappiness to the rink users who had been used to working informally with rink staff to put on these events -- the women's shinny tourney, the Family Skate Unicef fundraiser, Puppets on Ice, and the couriers' bikes-on-ice races. Eventually one of these events dropped out, two were grandfathered as rec programs, and one is still in limbo.

However, inquiries into events permits at other outdoor rinks turned up the information that there are very few permits (6 winter special event permits, according to Mark Lawson, for 49 outdoor rinks in the last five years). Events we knew of ourselves turned out not to have permits (Toronto Maple Leafs, which required two day-closure of Ramsden this year, and the Leafs at High Park, Withrow, and Rennie in other years). This was also true for Family Day Fun days and other special events, run by or in partnership with non-staff community groups at Christie and Regent South. The only event permit on Mark Lawson's list for this season turned out to be a Recreation-run event that didn't require insurance (which was one of the main sticking points for the Dufferin/Wallace rink users).

So it's clear that
a) the events policy is not currently applied uniformly (most remarkably, the city requires 6 weeks to process citizens' permits, but only 2 days to process film companies' permits).
b) if there are so few outdoor rink events, that suggests the policy is not working, and it needs to be reworked, this time with more active input from the rink users who intend to donate their work for such events.

4. Permit fees: Revenue seems to be a big reason for permit requirements, but the fees are peculiar and inequitable. The Swansea Children's Hockey program, run by volunteers, was required to pay $12,000 for the season. Not only does the City no longer offer children's hockey through their own staff, it actually charges rink users to run the programs. On the other hand, film companies that want to use parks as locations, are charged no permit fee.

In the case of Swansea Hockey, the group was even asked to pay extra fees for the use of the change area (a clubhouse through community efforts), but so far it has refused.

5. Campfires: this is a particular example of an event policy that needs fixing. The campfire policy seems to confuse staff, some city councillors are not aware of its existence, it was developed without park user input, and it is applied differently in different parts of the city. This means that a very simple opportunity for rink user enjoyment is obstructed.

6. Ice maintenance: On Jan. 20 the Parks director said that he would send the Toronto/EY flying squad schedule soon, but it hadn't arrived by Jan.25. On the whole the weather has been unusually stable for winter, but even under those conditions the flying squad rink maintenance is rather unpredictable, and communication is sparse. Our request to have direct communication at least between forepersons and the on-site rink staff has not been accepted so far.

Routines for bad weather vary from rink to rink and region to region. Although the rain on Monday Jan.25 stopped by 1 p.m., the North York and Etobicoke Rinks called in to 311 at 7 pm to say that all rinks except Rennie are closed. Toronto/East York, on the other hand, did not declare any of the rinks closed, even though there was no ice maintenance at most single-pad rinks until late, and many were unskateable.

In the east end, many rinks have signs up saying there will be no scrapes, only floods, to get the ice as high as possible in case of warm weather, and the rain was left on to freeze. The jury is still out on that approach, although it is true that many single-pad and some double-pad rinks are not excessively thick in their ice.

7. Helmets: Our request that Risk Management be asked for an opinion about the mandatory helmet policy received no comment. The situation of widespread non-compliance continues as before. In our rink census samples, collected since the season opened at 22 different outdoor rinks, we counted 2039 shinny hockey players on various dates, and only 503 of them were wearing helmets. This sample is skewed to our smaller sample of often-visited rinks (Dufferin, Wallace, Campbell, Giovanni Caboto, Glen Long, and Christie Pits) but it does also include rinks in all sections of the city. We once again urge the City to consult risk management for an opinion about the liability risk the City carries in this situation.

8. CELOS's offer to work with the city to improve outdoor rinks: one of the things the ombudsman's office seemed to be interested in, before we set about collecting our material, was the city's response to our approaches. Aside from one meeting last year with the skate committee and one meeting with the helmet policy committee, we had two meetings last year with the directors and one this year with the Parks director only. The Recreation director had car trouble and couldn't get there. He made no subsequent comments on the material we sent him for that meeting.

Our most recent attempt has been to talk to the advisory council at JJP/Giovanni Caboto, which turned up the interesting information that their council meeting is closed, with the exception of the 5-7 minutes we are granted to explain our views of Giovanni Caboto Rink's potential. We're now interested in finding out how long the meetings have been closed, and what the city's position is on that.

9. Upcoming is a Wednesday visit from Jerry Shaubel, a director in the auditor generals' office. One of the things we're keen to ask about is their definition of staff "conflict of interest."

Jutta Mason
416 533-0153.

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Content last modified on November 15, 2010, at 09:36 PM EST