Montreal

Why Montreal's promise to build refrigerated outdoor rinks has gone unfulfilled

Montreal officials announced a three-year plan in November 2016 to install outdoor, refrigerated ice rinks around the city, to keep residents skating even as winters grow milder. None have been installed. Here's why.

Officials say it costs more to install a rink than they'd thought when they earmarked $7.3M for project

There are six Bleu Blanc Bouge rinks in Montreal, including this one in Verdun. This photo was taken in March 2017, as refrigerated rinks can stay open later in the season. (Charles Contant/Radio-Canada)

In November 2016, the City of Montreal launched a three-year plan to install outdoor, refrigerated ice rinks around the city as a way to keep residents skating no matter how mild the winter gets.

Three years have passed, and none have been installed. And it may be several years yet before Montreal gets a single new refrigerated ice rink, CBC News has learned.

It all comes down to cost, said Coun. Hadrien Parizeau, the executive committee member in charge of sports and recreation.

When the previous administration announced the plan, officials earmarked $7.3 million and said the first rink would open as early as 2017.

The rinks were then estimated to cost between $1 million and $1.5 million each. But it turns out that per-rink assessment was off by about $8 million.

Last year, the city finally drew up plans and put out a call for tenders for a rink and Zamboni garage to be installed in Lalancette Park, in the Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough.

Parizeau said the lowest bid came in at around $9 million — busting the entire three-year budget by some $1.7 million. 

Back to drawing board

The city's central administration offered to invest the entire $7.3-million budget in that one rink, as long as the borough covered the rest of the cost. However, borough officials refused, so now it's back to the drawing board, Parizeau said.

"We're taking a step back to see what will be the next investment in ice rinks," said Parizeau. "We didn't cancel the program."

Now the city is looking for the perfect location for a single new rink.

Parizeau said there is a list of criteria to be met. For starters, neighbours will have to accept the installation of a hockey rink and garage in a public park, and the borough has to agree to share the cost, he said.

"We're going to work for this, for sure," said Parizeau.

"We know with climate change, the rain, the natural ones are really hard to maintain. For sure, we want to do it, but we need to find a good place for it."

Though he was unable to predict a timeline, he said $7.5 million will be set aside for the project.

Cost estimates off by millions

Parizeau's predecessor in his role on the executive committee was Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough Mayor Jim Beis. 

When Beis made the announcement three years ago, his per-rink cost estimate fell in line with the refrigerated outdoor rinks installed by the Montreal Canadiens Children's Foundation. Under its Bleu Blanc Bouge program, six rinks have been opened in the city, at a cost of roughly $1.5 million each.

Élizabeth Desjardins-Côté, a spokesperson for the foundation, said that investment covers the installation of the rink and a warming hut, but maintenance is the city's responsibility.

Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve's Lalancette Park was supposed to have a refrigerated outdoor rink this year. It still doesn't exist. Workers were out flooding the natural ice rink Monday. (Sean Henry/CBC)

That's where the city has run into problems, Parizeau said. 

The refrigeration compressors aren't up to the task, and the city needs to purchase a higher quality system to ensure the new refrigerated rink it wants to build would be functional throughout the season.

On top of the compressor issues, Parizeau said, the Zamboni garage is another major expense, driving the price tag up well beyond what Beis announced three years ago.

Pools come first, city says

For now, the city has prioritized the repair and construction of indoor and outdoor pools to give citizens more options to cool off when the weather is scorching, said Laurence Houde-Roy, a spokesperson for the executive committee.

A total of $34 million has been granted for the repair of aquatic facilities and another $72 million will be invested in the construction of two new indoor pools, she said.

Houde-Roy said the city is continuing to invest in winter activities, such as the refrigerated rink that is slated to open next year as a tourist draw in the downtown Quartier des Spectacles.

That $67-million public square development project, delayed due to last year's harsh winter, is drawn from a different budget, she said, as is the ski and snowboard hill in Sud-Ouest borough's Ignace-Bourget Park.

The 5,000-square-metre space on Clark Street between Ste-Catherine Street and de Maisonneuve Boulevard is slated to be a massive refrigerated rink in the winter by 2020. (City of Montreal)

"We consider it important to continue working to offer winter recreation options," she said. "It is always our desire to move forward with initiatives such as the outdoor refrigerated ice program."

The refrigerated outdoor rink at Olympic Park, operated by the Olympic Installations Board, is not functional this season. The one at the Old Port, which is not free, opened on Dec. 7. The small refrigerated rink on Mount Royal attached to Beaver Lake is free and runs from Dec. 1 to March 15.

The borough of Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie is also installing a small, temporary rink in a parking lot this winter. That rink will only cost $100,000, but it's considerably smaller and less involved than a permanent, outdoor hockey rink, Parizeau said. 

Beis, a member of the opposition Ensemble Montréal, didn't respond to a request for comment.

When asked about the issue Monday, Ensemble Montreal's leader, Lionel Perez, said the original estimates were around $1.5 million to $2 million per rink.

As to why the estimate ended up being off by several million dollars or why the rinks were never built, he said he would look into it. His party continues to support the effort to build refrigerated outdoor rinks in the city, he said.

"We have all seen the difficulties over the last decade being able to maintain natural ice rinks without refrigeration, and it's a struggle because of changes in the climate," said Perez.

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