Old South neighbours rally to save aging Farquharson Arena
It's cramped, Spartan and the dressing rooms are so small 'you can barely change your mind'
People say it's too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer, has no showers and isn't much to look at, but Heather Saunders thinks Farquharson Arena is a vital part of her community.
"There are some things that aren't perfect about this arena," Saunders said. "If it comes down to money and having an arena that's slightly problematic and not having an arena at all, we'll take what we have right here."
"I taught my children how to skate here," she said.
She's so committed to the cause, she even paid out of her own pocket for the yellow signs that have started sprouting up on lawns all over Old South.
"My husband wasn't too impressed but, on my own, I ordered all of these signs and put them on my credit card," she said, noting the signs are available at cost at London's Source for Sports for $10.
Farquharson is one of three arenas that need replacing
Saunders is leading a group of Old South neighbours who are fighting to save Farquharson Arena, a cramped and Spartan ice rink from a bygone era with an uncertain future.
It's one of three aging rinks, including Glen Cairn Arena and Silverwood Arena, that the city identified needed replacing in its 2009 parks and recreation master plan.
However, plans to demolish Glen Cairn and decommission Silverwood have already been put to paper, while the fate of Farquharson, sandwiched between Tecumseh Public School and South Secondary school, isn't exactly clear.
"It's not at all that clear," said Stephen Turner, the London city councillor who's ward includes the neighbourhood.
Arena's future uncertain
The city has already floated a possible plan for what to do with the space, including replacing the arena with a community centre with a possible outdoor rink that could be used for hockey in the winter and ball hockey in the summer.
Turner said the people who live Old South are more engaged than most and are eager to see what the city plans to do with the aging building, which is why he's pushing bureaucrats for a public consultation "sooner rather than later."
"I think there's a lot of possible outcomes, but it's about what the community wants and the best use of the space," he said.
City hall has no plan
Scott Stafford, managing director of Parks and Recreation, said the plan for Farquharson depends on the city finding two pads of ice to replace the current facility and that there would be no need for public consultation until the city has a proposal.
"We still need to look at when and what those facilities would be," he said, noting the city is still at least a year away from a proposal of what would replace Farquharson Arena, which would eventually become part of a public consultation.
"There's no point in engaging the public until we have some firm answers," he said.
Still, Heather Saunders isn't waiting around. She said she wants to get the community mobilized so city hall bureaucrats understand just how important Farquharson Arena to those who live in Old South.
"I'm not going to wait until the bulldozer is at the doorstep of this arena," Saunders said. "Most people are unaware that the city plans to do this and let's face it, you can't wait until the final hour to speak up. The city needs to hear about this now and learn that we value this arena and we want it to remain in our community."
Brad Weaver, neighbour
"I like the movement, I like the idea," said Brad Weaver, who lives just down the street. "They tried to close it about five years ago because it needed so many renovations, but because there's a public school and a high school on either side of the arena, it seems to make sense to have it there."
Weaver said the arena still has its problems, but it's worth saving.
"The dressing rooms in there are small enough you can barely change your mind," he said. "The teams really, when they're in there, they're in a sweatbox."
"It would be a detriment to the neighbourhood [if it closed]," he said. "I would rather have it than not have it."
Ferdinand Mels, hockey dad
"It's colder than some but it's perfectly fine for practice," said hockey dad Ferdinand Mels, whose son Kyland practiced at least 40 times last season.
While he said the ice was in great shape, but the venue isn't good for hockey games, since the boards on one side of the rink are so rigid they risk causing injuries to players.
"The arena doesn't lend itself well to games," he said. "But as practice ice, it's wonderful."
"If you have a game scenario where one team needs the whole change room, it would be tight. For younger age groups, for practice, there's nothing wrong with it. I've never had an issue there, other than it's really cold."