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Reality Check: Delayed Openings of City Rinks

In mid-November, 2010, Brenda Patterson, General Manager of Parks Forestry and Recreation, released a memo announcing that the opening of 14 rinks on November 20 would be delayed by a week to November 27. She gave a long list of reasons for this, chiefly the weather.

We've been fact checking the statements made in this memo and other sources, and collate our findings here.

PFR Statement

Reality Check

Source: Memorandum from Brenda Patterson to Mayor Miller and Members of City Council:

Warm weather conditions, bright sunshine and plant capacity are all factors which impact our ability to make ice at outdoor facilities

True, plus rain is sometimes a factor late November. But all of these conditions are normal for this time of year, and none prevent ice formation and maintenance.

we need daytime temperatures not to exceed 5 degrees centigrade and zero degrees at night to facilitate ice-making

False. Daytime temperatures can be higher, particularly with cloud cover. Even in sunshine, temperatures of 10 degrees would not destroy ice, just soften it temporarily. Night temperatures can be 10 or 12 degrees and still allow ice formation. The sun is the main factor, and it's already low in the sky in November.

In addition, days with overcast skies are best for building and maintaining ice for outdoor rinks.

Well, clouds are obviously not a factor at night. Sure they help during the day, but aren't required to hold ice.

Compressors running during warmer conditions put refrigeration plants at risk which can lead to costly repairs

False. The main factor is not the ambient temperature, it's the angle of the sun. It's heartening that the City is newly concerned with the load on the machinery -- has been pleading with management, for years, to stop trying to run the rinks in the high-sun month of March. But November is not the problem.

In order to effectively schedule rink operations staff and keep our energy consumption levels and associated costs at acceptable levels we have had to delay the start up

Scheduling is a management issue that should be arranged with contingencies before the season. We note that the city-wide rink manager was on holidays during this critical time.

Extra energy costs are marginal, have been easily borne in the past, and greater energy was used in March in previous years. (We don't recommend keeping rinks open in March)

Source: Response letter from Brenda Patterson to many members of the public who wrote her emails requesting that the original opening date be used for at least some rinks:

As you may be aware, making ice at this time of year can be challenging

So?!? Ice making is a skill like any other. City workers used to have this skill, and there's no reason it couldn't be restored, if it's been lost.

Source: email? from Richard Ubbens, Parks Director, to Jutta Mason, editor:

Due to the current weather conditions, the planned early opening has been adjusted

As noted above, this was unnecessary.

Based on our current infrastructure and plant capacity, we require three consecutive days with temperatures no higher than 5 degrees to build and sustain ice.

False. Temperatures can go to 10 or 12 degrees, and still allow ice formation at night.

Turning compressors on earlier would have required compressors to run 24-hours a day resulting in significant costs, environmental impacts and wear-and-tear on equipment.

False. Compressors run based on cooling and ice formation requirements. They're designed for that, including for November. There's nothing about costs, environmental impacts, and wear-and-tear that's special about late November. In fact late November is easier on ice that late February in sunshine.

Ice that may have been built in the evening would not have been sustained due to warm ground temperatures, sunlight, rain and air temperature; in short, we still would not have ice.

False. Well OK, there was a freak rainstorm on Tuesday November 16 that destroyed ice at Harbourfront, but that happens when you're dealing with Mother Nature. No amount of delay is going to guarantee the absence of freak weather events.

Source: statements to the press by James Dann, the city’s manager of waterfront parks:

Harbourfront's outdoor rink is scheduled to open Nov. 20 [...] because Harbourfront has a "massive compressor" (the equipment that cools the ice slab) [...] "I'm envious of their compressor," says Dann. The city has a "big range of compressors, some new, outstanding compressors and some older ones that are not outstanding."

False. Harbourfront has two old (1983) 100 Hp compressors, and it's considerably larger than the city's rinks. We are told that the city's are at least as good. Apparently Dufferin Rink has two 75 Hp compressors from 1993, and City Hall rink has two 75 Hp compressors that are even younger. All these compressors work just fine.

the main reason for delay at outdoor rinks is that "we have not had ideal ice-making conditions for our existing ice-making compressors"

False. It's not necessary to have "ideal ice making conditions." Ice making can be done in a wide range of conditions as long as it's done during the night. This is evident from the individual rink logs on The reason for the delay appears to be that the basic preparations necessary for rink openings were scheduled to occur AFTER the council-approved opening date.

Decision-maker salaries for people referenced above (from Disclosure for 2009 under the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act, 1996):

PATTERSON BRENDA L. General Manager, Parks Forestry & Recreation

Salary paid: $197,192.26;
taxable benefits: $10,516.24

UBBENS RICHARD Director, Urban Forestry & City Forester (his title at the time of the survey)

Salary paid: $154,482.30;
taxable benefits: $939.34

DANN JAMES Manager, Enterprise Services

Salary paid: $126,128.38;
taxable benefits: $754.42

BOWSER KEVIN Manager, Parks (responsible for rinks; on holidays during the period of rink openings)

Salary paid: $122,305.01;
taxable benefits: $776.10

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Content last modified on January 24, 2011, at 09:06 AM EST