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City will consider safety netting at arenas in 2022 budget

Mayor Bill Mauro says the $284,000 expense is justified by real safety risks.
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Adding retractable netting at the Fort William Gardens is estimated to cost $210,000. (File photo)

THUNDER BAY – City council will consider adding safety netting along the sides of rinks at its hockey arenas, including the Fort William Gardens, as it debates the 2022 city budget.

It would cost $284,250 to install netting at the Gardens and the city’s five satellite arenas, a staff report concluded. That's about double the rough estimate of $140,000 councillors received in 2020.

Councillors voted Monday to add the costs for consideration as part of the 2022 budget process. The item will be debated on Jan. 20, when council reviews the budget for its community services department, which includes recreation facilities.

Coun. Brian Hamilton questioned whether the cost was justified, after city staff said they had no official reports of injuries from stray pucks at city arenas.

“We’re kind of looking for a safety issue that quite possibly doesn’t exist,” he said.

Mayor Bill Mauro, who had proposed the city consider safety netting, said there’s no doubt people in the stands are sometimes hit by pucks, with the potential for serious injuries.

“To say we have no reports of anyone being hit, it’s not the case,” he said. “I can assure you people have been hit by pucks.”

The mayor said he’d witnessed a serious incident himself during his time as a hockey coach.

City staff estimated it would cost $210,000 to add netting with an electric retractable system at the Fort William Gardens. While such a system would cost more upfront, it would conserve the amount of staff time necessary to operate it in the long term, the city found.

The $74,250 total for satellite arenas would include manually retractable netting at the Port Arthur and Delaney facilities, which also host figure skating, and non-retractable netting at the Neebing, Current River, and Grandview arenas.

Director of recreation Leah Prentice told councillors those estimates were for netting that obstructed spectators’ view of the game as little as possible, similar to the product seen in “arenas that might host high-level hockey games.”

The estimated cost would also include replacing netting already in place in the end zones.

Hamilton and Coun. Rebecca Johnson were the only councillors to vote against referring the cost for consideration on Jan. 20.

Johnson has previously said she'd be hard-pressed to approve new expenditures to the 2022 budget without a clear rationale.

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