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Shutdown of Orillia's Rotary Place rinks irks user groups

'We are extremely thankful for the skating clubs around us. Barrie, Coldwater and Oro-Medonte have offered us ice time for our skaters,' says Orillia Figure Skating Club coach
Orillia Terriers 11-13-21 21
The U18 Orillia Terriers defeated Pickering at the Jim Wilson Chevrolet Buick GMC Winter Classic in 2021. For the next few weeks, the two ice pads at Rotary Place will be idle due to equipment failure.

Issues with a heat exchanger have led the city to shutter the two ice pads at Rotary Place in west Orillia as of Oct. 7, leaving a variety of hockey teams and figure skaters trying to effectively share the single remaining ice pad at Brian Orser Arena.

City staff estimate a wait time of three to five weeks before the pads are up and running again, though that is not a firm timeline.

“Staff have been working with industry experts since Friday to source the replacement parts for the heat exchanger and have expedited the process,” said Melissa Gowanlock, the City of Orillia’s manager of communications.

“A firm reopening date has not been established at this point in time, but we will know more regarding timing once the parts have been secured on site.”

The mechanical problems have also prompted the postponement of all city-run on-ice programs, including public skating and shinny hockey, “to assist with accommodating user groups,” she added.

Gowanlock said the heat exchanger issues occurred despite maintenance carried out by the city.

“The City of Orillia has regular maintenance programs in place for all of our ice facilities and works with professional refrigeration contractors on a regular basis to perform preventative maintenance and upkeep of our facilities,” she said.

“We appreciate residents’ patience while we work to address this issue as quickly as possible. While we have expedited the process on our end, there are unprecedented supply-chain issues for so many industries.”

Gowanlock also said the city is working with local sports organizations to accommodate available ice time at Brian Orser Arena on Gill Street.

Orillia Minor Hockey Association president Steve Fagan estimates the minor hockey program will lose 20 to 25 hours of ice time per week with Rotary Place’s ice pads out of commission.

The organization has 36 house-league and rep-level teams ranging in age from U4 to U21.

The most impacted group, Fagan said, is the local mytes hockey program for children ages three to six.

“Our mytes program, which was most affected, we’ve had to move them back by a minimum of two weeks. Their start date was tomorrow,” he said.

Due to the close proximity of home and away benches and dressing rooms at the aged Brian Orser Arena, Fagan also said some of the older rep teams — likely, ages 14 and older — will not be able to play home games at that facility.

“Their dressing rooms are too close together; the penalty boxes are too close together; everything's too close together and it leads to problems for the referees and stuff like that,” he said.

The issues with Rotary Place are particularly upsetting when considering the COVID-19 restrictions of the past two years, Fagan said.

“It’s frustrating in the sense that we’re just getting going. We’re just recovered from two seasons of COVID where we lost a lot of members and we had managed to get our membership back up to actually a little higher than pre-COVID. So, hopefully, from our perspective, this doesn’t damage Orillia Minor Hockey’s credibility,” he said.

Tracey Zwiers, head coach of the Orillia Figure Skating Club, said local figure skaters will be similarly affected by the closure.

With roughly 300 skaters between the ages of two and 20, Zwiers estimates the club will lose about 15 hours of ice time per week until Rotary Place is reopened.

“It’s a significant impact because since the pandemic people have not been able to do activities,” she said. “But when there’s mechanical difficulties, there’s really nothing we can do about it. We just have to work together with all the other organizations and the city to try to keep going.”

Monday evening’s learn-to-skate program, as well as additional ice time for competitive skaters, will see the greatest impacts, Zwiers said.

“Our Monday program has about 120 skaters and … we are trying to get permission from Skate Canada to move them to Wednesdays or Fridays,” she said. “We have regulations with how many people are allowed on the ice, so we have to kind of wait and see if we can get special permission to allow more on the ice to accommodate these skaters.”

She said the club has been offered ice time by neighbouring municipalities.

“We are extremely thankful for the skating clubs around us. Barrie, Coldwater and Oro-Medonte have offered us ice time for our skaters,” she said. “That’s great, and we’re very thankful for them.”

By comparison, the Orillia Terriers junior C hockey team will fare relatively well through the coming weeks.

“We’re going to keep our same times, or at least our same days, for practice and games, which is great,” said head coach Dallyn Telford. “Thank you to the city for making that work for us.

“Things happen, and I can’t imagine what they’re going through trying to accommodate several different user groups with with half the ice.”

Telford said maintaining the current schedule is key for the team.

“If we (had to) wait, tack those games onto the end of the schedule, I don’t think it would have been possible, just because there’s very little turnaround time from the end of the regular season to when the playoffs start,” he said.

The Terriers will play their first home game Saturday night at Brian Orser Arena against the Penetang Kings.

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Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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