Fredericton's York Arena will stay open after city councillors voted unanimously on Wednesday to invest $3 million over the next 10 years into the 67-year-old rink.
Deputy Mayor Eric Megarity chaired a special council meeting on Wednesday that was attended by more than 100 citizens interested in the fate of the arena.
"It's a tough decision, but I think looking back in 10 years time, I think it's the right decision," said Megarity, whose ward includes the York Arena.
"We're going to keep people more active and that's what we do as a city, keep them active. We have an opportunity here to do that and we've done it today."
The arena is operating at 83 per cent capacity during peak hours of 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. compared to the newly-built Grant-Harvey Centre and Willie O'Ree Place that are operating at 93 per cent capacity.
York Arena supporters said that closing the rink and operating the city's ice rentals under a five-ice surface model would jam up the demand for ice time in Fredericton.
Further, the supporters argued that closing the rink could force people to use rinks outside of the city.
There are structural problems with the rink, however.
An engineering assessment presented by city staff says the building is under designed and overstressed.
Particularly, the roof purlins are overstressed by 19 per cent according to a June 2014 structure analysis report by exp Services Inc.
It will cost $269,890 to fix the roof, assuming 75 per cent of the purlins can be straightened and reinforced, leaving only a 25 per cent margin for outright replacement or it will cost more.
The rink also needs an additional $964,890 to bring the structure up to 2010 building code, plus another $823,402 in "end-of-life" repairs. The report also stated the rink will need $993,552 in upgrades over the next 10 years.
All of the repairs will cost Fredericton taxpayers $3 million.
'We should do everything we can to maintain the quality of services that the citizens expect and I'm going to call on the citizens to step up and support and pay for that.'- Coun. Stephen Chase
Coun. Stephen Chase is calling on taxpayers to support the decision and pick up the tab.
"I think the real question here is when we're talking an investment of a couple million dollars, what quality in range of services are citizens prepared to support and to pay for?" Chase said.
"This issue is wrapped very closely into our fiscal ability to carry on and provide the quality of services that people expect. We should do everything we can to maintain the quality of services that the citizens expect and I'm going to call on the citizens to step up and support and pay for that."
The next step for city councillors is to see if there is any way to pay for immediate repairs this year, since the current budget doesn't have the necessary funds to pay for the $2 million worth of renovations and upgrades.
Arena's condition raises safety concerns
Dylan Gamble, the city’s assistant director of engineering and operations, said the arena repairs could take up to six months to complete.
If the repairs are not done, there has been a suggestion that the city could clear snow off the roof. But Gamble,said that plan is not feasible.
"Operationally, that's just not realistic," Gamble said.
"Let me put it into context. Doaktown, their arena this past winter had the exact same plan about removing the snow off. And look where that arena is now. It's laying on the ground."
Coun. John MacDermid said the city should be "very careful" with how it proceeds and to weigh the risks to users and employees versus the desire to keep it open.
Megarity said the city has enough time to make a decision on the arena's immediate safety concerns.
"It will be a couple months before anybody who's in there plays. So we'll have to work with the engineers and see if we can work around that," Megarity said.
'I think our direction to staff is we want to operate that facility and then we'll talk about how we do that safely.'- Coun. Dan Keenan
"Now remember, we're talking snow load. So if we don't get any snow until December, we'll have three or four months to do that. We'll have to make that decision as we get closer to it."
Coun. Dan Keenan also assured users that the arena's safety will be looked into prior to allowing them back on the ice.
"We'll deal with the issue of safety … almost as a separate issue," Keenan said.
"I think our direction to staff is we want to operate that facility and then we'll talk about how we do that safely because I'm sure everyone of you do not want your kids playing in a facility that isn't safe."
Nolan McGinn, 8, was one of the supporters in attendance on Wednesday. He was dressed in goalie equipment from the waist up and carried a sign that read, "Save the York Arena Mayor Woodside."
Mike McGinn, Nolan’s father, said he is comfortable with his son playing in the rink despite the safety concerns.
"It's obvious those upgrades will have to be made. I think it was obvious a couple of years ago too," Mike McGinn said.
"He was in it last year. I know the age of the arena, I know that there's some upgrades that are required, but it's an inevitable cost of maintaining these things."
He said the rink has a special place in the McGinn family, being the site of Nolan's first goal as well as Nolan's grandfather's.
"[Nolan] loves that rink and that ice is well-known as being the best ice around. It's just an amazing place to play hockey."