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Will Local Arenas Reopen this Winter?

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Arena Crop
Inside the Niverville Centennial Arena. Chantel Todd

As we head into the tail end of winter, communities across Manitoba are facing a decision related to whether to keep their arenas running. Although the province has gradually loosened pandemic restrictions over the course of the last month, arenas remain closed for games and practices.

The only allowance for these facilities so far is for them to reopen for individual instruction.

Operating recreation centres like arenas has turned out to be a significant cost for municipalities across Manitoba. A recent report by the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) showed that 85 percent of municipalities are facing financial hardships. Additionally, the single biggest financial hit for 71 percent of municipalities has been the closure of community rec centres and the loss of revenue associated with that.

“During the cold stretch, the arena doesn’t cost us much in terms of hydro to run,” says Eric King, CAO for the Town of Niverville. “As we move into the warmer weather, a decision will be made in the next couple of weeks, about turning off [the ice plant] before our cost to run outweighs any potential benefits.”

The Town of Niverville’s decision, King adds, is likely to come after the next round of public health orders is announced on March 5.

He also points out that the productivity of the ice needs to be taken into consideration. Although individual instruction is currently allowed, it’s a significant cost to the taxpayers to open the building for such a small number of people.

Weather will also play a factor in the decision. Even if games and practices are allowed to resume in March, warming temperatures could make it unfeasible to continue operation.

“As the facility is older and does not have the same potential to run in warmer temperature, the building is limited on how long into spring we could run it,” King says. “It’s a 50-year-old building. Running in heat could damage or overwork the plant or could cause structural issues/humidity issues which would play a role in its future life expectancy. [We want to] extend the asset to get the most out of it at the end of its life.”

At the end of the day, King acknowledges that it’s a waiting game.

“Public health will determine and guide our path forward,” he says. “A decision will be made once a clearer picture emerges or Mother Nature tells us it’s over.”

Meanwhile, Ritchot’s arenas are already in the process of shutting down. After having funded all operational costs since the restrictions came into effect in November, they decided to pull the plug.

“After the most recent reiteration of public health restrictions, council has made the difficult decision to stop operational funding as of February 17,” says Amber Mamchuk, Director of Recreation Services. “The arenas are in the process of closing down for the season and will not be reopening until the late summer/early fall.”

The ice plant at the St. Adolphe Arena had already been shut down, due to a mechanical failure on the brine pump.

“As a result, the chiller and several other pieces of equipment will need to be replaced,” Mamchuk says. “We are in the process of an insurance claim to replace the damaged equipment. The limiting factor is a turnaround time of eight to ten weeks for chillers. Once the equipment has been installed, the arena will be up and running again, hopefully by the fall.”

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