THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay’s city council will pick up the discussion over a controversial proposal to close a number outdoor skating rinks on Monday.
Facing public blowback, council hit pause on an initial recommendation to close 31 of 39 outdoor rinks, a measure staff proposed in response to council’s directive to find millions of dollars in cuts leading up to the 2024 budget.
A motion put forward by Coun. Kasey Etreni offers a compromise of sorts, suggesting the closure of 13 outdoor rinks, one third of the total, while downgrading others and exploring further cuts in the future.
Her motion, which will be debated Monday evening at city hall, would see the following rinks closed entirely this year:
- Woodside Parkette
- Anton Parkette
- Pickton Parkette
- John Kusznier Park
- Third & High
- Wilson Park
- Green Acres Park
- Thornloe Parkette
- Friendship Gardens
- Franklin Park
- Confederation Drive
- Holt Parkette
Supervised boarded rinks at Waddington Park, Charry Park, and Oliver Road Park would be downgraded to unsupervised rinks.
Etreni said the locations were selected based on usage data.
The city had already notified residents living near 11 outdoor rinks that the sites are on a watchlist to be closed or downgraded, based on decreasing usage.
A review found many skating ponds were being used by less than one person per hour, on average.
A city policy sets out average usage standards of one person per hour for ponds, three people per hour for boarded rinks, five people per hour for community-supervised rinks, and 10 people per hour for city-supervised rinks.
The majority of outdoor rinks are not hitting those minimum usage targets, staff report.
Etreni’s motion would also direct staff to report on usage numbers at remaining rinks over the upcoming winter season to determine if further closures should be explored.
She has called the reduction a response to low usage rates and a financial crunch for the municipality, but says it should also allow overstretched staff to improve ice quality at remaining, more widely-used locations.
“For the staff resources and equipment that Thunder Bay has, many of the 39 outdoor sites lack in quality of the ice surface,” she states in a memo accompanying her motion.
Etreni added that while a 2020 public survey had indicated “strong community satisfaction” with the current rink system, the majority of users said they drive to the rink and are willing to drive three to six kilometres to a rink.
The at-large councillor has also pointed to “validity concerns” with a more recent online survey the city conducted that showed overwhelming opposition to the move to close outdoor rinks.
The city received an impressive 4,763 responses to the survey, which city staff confirmed is higher than for any other survey the city has launched.
Councillors shared concerns from constituents that people may have been able to submit multiple responses, since it was not limited to those with an account through the Get Involved system the city typically uses to manage surveys.
Parks manager Cory Halvorsen acknowledged the issue, but said he was confident a review had eliminated potential repeat submissions. He added the results overall closely matched those completed by Get Involved users.
Many survey respondents who opposed the plan to close 31 outdoor rinks said they could be open to closing fewer locations.
Closing 31 rinks was estimated to save the city $365,000 per year, but no updated estimate was available for savings associated with Etreni’s motion.