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CELOS rink season deputation, February 6 2009

On January 12, City Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong proposed to Council’s “Community Development and Recreation Committee” that the city’s outdoor rinks be opened two weeks earlier next winter. They asked for a staff report, to be presented to the committee on February 6. This is something rink friends have been requesting for ten years, so it was time to make a deputation, in favour.


My name is Jutta Mason and I work with a small research group called “The Centre for Local Research into Public Space” – CELOS. Among other things, we run the website. I’ve come to talk to you today about the timing of the outdoor rink season. I’m here not because I’m an avid skater – I can’t skate – but because of my long-standing interest in the wintertime social possibilities, for all ages and cultures, of our neighborhood public rinks. Outdoor public rinks can be a great place for “community development.” As you know, Toronto has 49 outdoor compressor-cooled ice rinks - more than any other city in the world. We’re set for skating together in the winter.

When those rinks were first built, the rink season was from mid-November to the end of February. Open early, close early. There’s a reason for that, which is very clearly illustrated by this graph on our website: outdoor rinks do best when the sun is weakest. That means the rink season should be concentrated around the shortest day of the year, December 21. That rules out March, and favors November.

Outdoor Rinks And Weather

I have carefully read the staff report for this item, signed by former Parks Director Paul Ronan, who is – I’ve heard – no longer employed by the city as of last Monday. The report makes three main points to explain why Mr.Ronan and his staff felt that opening rinks earlier is not a good idea: 1. staying open in March works better for staff than opening on November 21
2. warmer weather in November supposedly results in more energy consumption and
3. opening all 49 rinks two weeks earlier would cost a fortune: $645,000.

That cost is certainly too high. So we can’t open all the rinks two weeks earlier. But it doesn’t need to be all or nothing. To compare: last December, City Council approved keeping 14 rinks open for two weeks in March, at a much lower cost: $172,000. Your council approved the extended season despite staff data from last March showing an average of only 25 to 40 skaters per rink per day, with many rinks having to be closed a lot, because of daytime slush or evening repair of slush.

Our cityrinks group suggests that this coming November, the city tries a mirror image of the March extension, opening fourteen additional rinks on November 21. We think that the city can come in well under the March cost of $172,0000 if you go “economy class.” “Economy class” is what many central-Toronto rinks get all winter long anyway. Ten major rinks get only two ice-resurfacing visits a day except when a zamboni breaks down, and then they get one visit. The Etobicoke and North York rinks go First Class all winter, because they have many more staff per rink. That’s a nice luxury, but if cutting everyone back to two ice resurfacing visits a day, for two weeks, means that we can open 14 rinks sooner, it’s worth it! And skaters are used to helping with shovels.

As for the staff report warning that an earlier opening will mess up everybody’s workload, and that Parks might have to bring seasonal workers on earlier at great cost – I think that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Last year the City reallocated 59 permanent full-time staff to be “lead hands” for Park grass care in summer, and to work at the outdoor rinks in winter. As a reward for the hardship of winter outside work, these staff got a good pay hike. So 59 zamboni staff show up to work every day in November even when the outdoor rinks are closed. And they don’t need an extra training period – ice maintenance is their job already. For the “economy-class” ice maintenance of two visits per rink per day, only 18 of those 59 lead hands would have to switch to the rinks two weeks earlier. The rest can finish up the late-November park work.

So there may be little or no additional staffing cost. As for the energy use: If you look back at the graph, you’ll see that the staff report is mistaken about more energy use in November. It’s cheaper in the low-sun times, and November is the second-darkest month.

But there’s an even better reason to open fourteen additional rinks during the two extra weeks in November. It can be a grand experiment in changing the rink culture. Even though Etobicoke and North York have much more ice maintenance, they have much lower public use, some as little as 12 hours a week. In contrast, the public can freely use most of the central-Toronto outdoor rinks between 50 and 80 hours a week. That’s not fair to the people living in the north and west of the city, who contribute the identical amount to public funds! But old habits die hard. Some ice maintenance workers still feel that they need to guard the rinks from too much use. Their rinks are empty too often. If some of those zamboni drivers spend just two weeks in November working at a central-Toronto rink, and see the joy and the liveliness at those rinks, full of people, they’d open their eyes to the wonderful winter resource that our outdoor rinks can be for neighborhoods. Councillors, please consider these factors when you vote on item CD22.6. The principle here is making the best possible use of one of our finest winter resources, instead of keeping that resource closed and shuttered during prime rink weather.

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Content last modified on February 05, 2009, at 09:13 AM EST