Thunder Bay city councillors and residents are pushing back against an administration proposal to close 31 of the city's 39 outdoor rinks.
The proposal was brought forward earlier this summer. Council has not made a final decision; the matter is expected to be discussed in detail during the 2024 municipal budget process.
If it were to be approved, the city would close all but eight of its outdoor rinks (under the proposal, North End Park, West End Park, Carrick Park, and Marina Park on the north side, and Northwood Playfield, Dease Park, Vickers Park Trail, and West Thunder Park on the south side would remain open).
A city review shows many of the rinks are under-utilized, and the closures would save the city $365,000 per year.
However, the proposal is receiving plenty of pushback. A public survey conducted in August showed 93 per cent of the 4,763 respondents are not in favour of the closures, saying the rinks provide important recreational space during Thunder Bay winters.
"This happens every year, where we tell administration that we want this $2.2 million, or whatever the amount was ... cut from the budget, and out comes these mom and apple pie issues that that nobody is going to support," at-large Coun. Trevor Giertuga said. "I don't know why they do it."
"They don't bring forward any cuts to administration staffing levels or anything like that," he said. "It's so obvious that no one on this council will support cutting 31 rinks. This is for our children, our community, recreation and getting kids out there."
"I just found it completely ridiculous."
Giertuga said it's possible that some rinks will be cut based on dropping usage levels, but "to completely chop the program is just, it's ridiculous. So it won't be getting my support at all."
Westfort Coun. Kristen Oliver called the report "alarming."
"It was concerning both for members of council and for the community at large," she said. "The potential 31 rink closures certainly generated a lot of the response that I thought it was going to."
"All sports are pretty important to people here in Thunder Bay, so I think council obviously recognizes that there has to be some sort of service reduction so that we can align property taxes and the pressures that we're seeing on the first response side in dealing with the social crisis."
"But how do we balance that?" Oliver said. "I don't believe that there was a huge appetite from many members of council, certainly not for myself, to see such a significant reduction, so I'm glad the community did take the time to communicate that with our administration."
Tonight's report is expected to be presented for information, with a debate on the closures likely to take place during budget deliberations.
Oliver, too, said some reductions may be coming. But the city will need to carefully consider which rinks to close, as not everyone has the ability to drive to a rink, so walkability must be kept in mind. Meanwhile, while there aren't any permits or anything required to build a backyard rink in the city, not all yards are large enough to accommodate that.
At-large councillor Trevor Giertuga says he will not be supporting the administration recommendation to close most outdoor rinks in Thunder Bay. (Marc Doucette/CBC)
"I will say too that, because the reduction was so significant, there has been really great conversations with people in the community, certainly in my ward, about how do we build opportunities for neighborhoods to have some ability to participate," Oliver said.
"It takes me back to a time when I was a kid, and and back in those days, we used to have ice rinks in the school yards so the school board would flood it," she said. "But on a Saturday mornings, if it snowed all night Friday, us kids were out there with our shovels, shoveling them off so we could skate on them."
"Those are the types of conversations that I was having with people where they're like, 'hey, as long as there's something there, we can manage and do what we need to do so we can use it on a weekend.'"
Monday's city council meeting gets underway at 6:30 p.m., and can be streamed online via the city's website.