The outdoor skating rink in the Virgil Sports Park has been frozen and ready for skating since late last week, but not officially open.
With the season for outside skating already short due to the weather, and kids heading back to school virtually, precious time for families and kids to enjoy the rink is being lost, said Paolo Miele, who asked and received support from town council for installing it on municipal property.
A few skaters have already tested out the rink, said Miele. But although the ice is remaining solid, the fence around it is supposed to be locked, until he has ironed out an issue town staff has raised.
Miele first said the hold-up was the need for information to be recorded for contact tracing, which the town had set as a condition of opening.
The boards and plastic were installed for the 40-foot by 80-foot rink before the end of the year, by a professional company, funded through volunteer donations. Fire Chief Nick Ruller asked and got a positive response from some firefighters who agreed to flood it, but by the time the temperature dropped and the ice froze, the province and town had stepped up restrictions to curb the growing number of COVID cases spurred on by the omicron variant, said Miele.
He maintained the skating rink was an outdoor amenity, like the playground and skatepark, and doesn’t require such measures, although the town was considering it a facility, which would require a name and phone number for contact tracing.
By Tuesday morning, the town had agreed that it was an outdoor amenity and contact tracing was not required. But there was another hiccup.
Miele said he is fine with asking for mask-wearing, although not mandated outdoors, and a reduced capacity on the ice, with only 30 skaters on it at one time, but he doesn’t have volunteers for the rink to be supervised during the hours it is open.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the town was saying it has to be supervised, for the safety of the skaters. Although hockey is not allowed, if nobody is enforcing that, someone could be injured, and the insurance has been arranged through the town.
The proposal Miele gave to staff before the town agreed to allow the rink on town property indicated volunteers would be supervising, and there have already been kids playing hockey.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero said she thought the rink was a great idea, and was pleased to see it approved. “I hope, fingers crossed, we’ll get the ice rink going. It’s outdoors, it’s a great activity, and a great initiative for the community,” she says.
But supervision of a rink on town property is necessary, she added. The town can’t afford to provide staff and Miele had said when he went to council with his request for a rink on town property that he had volunteer support.
The town is committed to the rink, Disero says, as it is to keeping the walking path shovelled. “We want the rink open and used, but it has to be supervised.”
Miele says he has volunteers to provide maintenance, such as flooding if necessary, and snow clearing. He has a resident who has offered to provide a “homezoni,” a small tractor with a 50-gallon water tank converted to spray water on the ice. Other than that, he expected the adults skating with families to look after each other and ensure rules are being enforced.
“We’ll be maintaining it, not supervising. We can’t do that 12 hours a day,” he said Monday.
Late Tuesday, he was looking for volunteers and hoping to have the rink open for use soon.
Disero suggested the hours might have to be reduced — Miele was hoping for 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., with lights on during the evening — and the town will open the concession stand so volunteers can keep warm and have access to the washrooms.
“Volunteers were expected to be part of the plan to supervise the activity. We can’t just let people go in and out,” she said.