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Monday Outdoor Rink report #7, January 4, 2010

1. Holiday schedule confusion: although the Parks Director sent a clear e-mail about open hours on Dec.18, this was not followed at many of the rinks. What he wrote is found at this link, for Dec.18: Monday Rink Report Correspondence In the past week (Dec. 28 - Jan.4) the biggest issue was New Year's Day. Holiday schedules in different sections of the city were confusing and contradictory, as was the 311 information.

It appears that the Recreation Director may have left instructions, before he went on holiday, that no Local 79 PT staff were to be working on days when they would be paid time-and-a-half, and so all rink buildings that have Local 79 staff as building attendants were closed on New Years' Day. But the Parks Director wrote to me: Staff are scheduled for ice resurfacing and buildings are open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The 311 line had different information on different days. They told me on Dec.31 that they had not received any e-mail from the Parks Director saying the buildings would be open.

When the great day came (Jan.1), the picture was even more varied. From our sampling: in the west, Rennie and High Park were open and staffed only by zamboni drivers, no rink guards, despite the congestion. In the north, Glen Long Rink was open, without hockey nets, but the building was locked despite the Parks Director's letter specifying that for the North York rinks: Buildings are open from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. However at Otter Creek both the rink and the buildings were open, with no evidence of staff. North Toronto was different again: it had three rink guards (this was the only such rink we came across.) In the North York rinks there was consistently no shinny hockey, since (they told me) they follow the same schedule on holidays as they have on Sundays. (The Lord's Day means no shinny hockey?)

In Toronto/ East York, Ramsden Rink was open and the building was open, with only the zamboni driver as staff. At Harry Gairey, the rink was open and a zamboni driver was in the office, but the building was locked. Dufferin, Wallace, and Campbell Rinks were closest to the schedule sent by the Parks Director (except that the buildings didn't close at 6 -- it's hard to push all those people out of the rinks on a holiday). A dramatic deviation was at Kew Rink, where the Star reported that the rink pad was locked: Slippery start to new year at Kew Beach skating rink We heard of no other rinks like that.

The Star writer reported that he called the Toronto/East York Parks manager, who said she doesn't do rinks. She was, however, on the cc list about the New Year's Day opening issue, presumably added in by Jim Gardhouse (i.e. not by me). I have to assume she didn't have time to read the material, which would have let her know that Kew was supposed to be unlocked.

2. Working together: the evidence is not there The contradiction between the Parks approach and the Recreation approach in holiday scheduling is just one sign of a considerable gap. Even within the sections the communication is not perfect. For example, when the Parks manager told the Fixer from the Star that he would have to call someone else to get the rink open, it seems likely that she was unaware that Parks zamboni drivers and forepersons were working. A quick call to one of them, to go over to Kew with a padlock key, would have solved the problem for all those locked-out neighbourhood skaters. Also, the disparity in holiday shinny hockey at the different rinks suggests that recreation staff are not talking to each other enough.

Suggested solution: find the principle and try to apply it. The leading principle of a municipal outdoor rink is: make it available to skaters. That begins by expanding the practice, already on the increase this year, of keeping the rinks unlocked as much as possible,

3. The current mandatory helmet policy places the city at maximum risk of liability. CELOS recently got the helmet policy material requested from Corporate Access to Information. We note that Brian Laur of Risk Management cautioned PF&R in 2002 that "If signs are posted indicating that helmets are mandatory and staff are present and do not enforce the policy this could attract liability." During the many rink visits made by CELOS over the holidays, shinny players NOT wearing helmets were considerably in excess of shinny players wearing them. Rink guards told the same story everywhere -- the moment they turn their backs, people take off their helmets. This included Rennie, Ramsden, North Toronto, and Giovanni Caboto, as well as the more obvious rinks like Regent, Dufferin, Wallace, Harry Gairy and Greenwood. The exception is those rinks where there is no or almost no public shinny time, i.e many of the Etobicoke Rinks and some in North York.

This is not a matter for a questionnaire but for observing and logging existing practice. If the City wants to shift the shinny culture over to hockey rules, they can keep trying. This may involve hiring extra enforcement officers, or canceling public shinny hockey everywhere, or taking note of the difference between contact and non-contact hockey. But until then, the mandatory helmets signs should be removed. That would immediately lower the risk of claims against the city.

4. The information system needs more work. The information problems raised in previous rink reports seem not to have been addressed. The 311 staff still do not have actual outdoor rink phone numbers even if they should wish to help a rink user check some information (nearby community centres are often quite misinformed -- and those are the phone numbers given out). Even Corporate Security was experiencing some slippage. They were unable to follow up on a midnight hockey noise complaint because they did not have the common name of a downtown rink on their list, and when they found the rink by its other name, the address was wrong by half a mile.

5. The flying squad ice maintenance system does not work for Wallace Rink. Since the Dec.5 opening there have been 20 days when Wallace got only 2 resurfacings, 3 days when the rink got only 1, two days with 0 (one was Christmas), and only five days with 3. There were only 5 days when the last flood was in the evening (i.e at or after 7 pm).
Suggested solution:
(a) Accept that the city is currently unable to maintain Wallace Rink adequately. Deliver two additional green rink shovels to Wallace (last week the rink was cleared manually by rec staff and skaters 8 times). More long metal shovels will make it go faster.
(b) direct the flying squad to let Wallace know when they are coming. This is currently not the practice anywhere in the city (roving ice maintenance staff are not supposed to communicate directly with on-site rink staff, and they don't). But it's too frustrating when rink users and rec staff have put out half an hour's effort to manually scrape the rink, and then the flying crew arrives ten minutes later.

In preparation for our report to the ombudsman, CELOS is visiting four sample rinks every day when possible: Glen Long in North, Giovanni Caboto in West, Christie Pits in South, and Wallace Rink. These rinks are close enough to one another, that we can track the differences and similarities fairly easily, including usage.

Jutta Mason

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Content last modified on November 15, 2010, at 09:38 PM EST