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Sticky situation over use of ice time at Optimist Recreation Centre in Aberfoyle

by Mike Robinson

ABERFOYLE - It was a sticky situation for Puslinch council recently - although this time the issue was about hockey sticks.

While kids and hockey go together hand-in-hand as a Canadian tradition, concerns were raised here locally by a recreation committee decision to eliminate free time for skating with sticks [hockey] at the Optimist Recreation Centre.

During the Dec. 21 council session, clerk Brenda Law brought forward a request from recreation staff to rethink a decision from the recreation commission.

“They are very concerned with the decision made last night about the timetable [use of the Optimist Recreation Centre ice rink].”

Law told councillors that she agreed to bring those concerns forward.

She said “[recreation] staff did not agree with the decision and felt it could result in a lot of unhappy people.”

Councillor Susan Fielding asked if the recreation staff had suggestions how to address the matter.

“I think there was a lot of searching for suggestions or ideas at that meeting.”

Law suggested letting recreation staff deal with the timetable.

“They know best when people come to skate or to play hockey. Let them look after it.”

Mayor Dennis Lever pointed out “All of us were at last night’s recreation meeting. Most of us were in the gallery. Discussion went on at length and a number of motions were made, and failed, in an attempt to find a solution.”

His understanding in the end was to allow staff some flexibility in regard to timing.

As a result, there was an interim proposal which would be in place until the next recreation meeting.

He said the final proposal included blocks of time set aside for free time for non-stick of the ice surface.

“There was no free times set aside for any age with [hockey] sticks” Lever said.

Law responded “That is the issue - no free times at all for sticks.”

She said the issue was not about scheduling, but that no free time was set aside for use with [hockey] sticks.”

Lever said it appears staff would like free time with sticks added to the schedule.

“If I remember the discussion from last night correctly, a lot of the concerns were reports that during the free time with sticks earlier, some of the larger kids had dominated the ice surface and the smaller kids were not getting an equal opportunity to play.”

Lever added the discussion  looked at trying to limit the ages, but there were concerns about who would make the decisions.

He asked if staff felt they would be able to avoid conflicts.

Law said staff were trying to minimize conflicts already.

“You have to understand, you’re not going to keep everyone happy.”

At the same time, Law said staff felt the recreation commission’s decision was not fair.

Councillor Susan Fielding clarified that because she was a spectator at the recreation meeting, she had no input at the time.

“I feel that there should be a time with sticks.”

She noted that providing free times for hockey was one of the main things the Optimists wanted.

She added that during the recreation meeting there were suggestions that the kids could always rent the time.

“I don’t think that’s realistic. They’ll go over and play when they can play - they are not planning it two days in advance.”

Fielding understood the concerns that little kids were not getting a fair share of the time, “but I would prefer to leave it in the hands of staff.”

She added that staff seem to have a good idea of who is at the rink and when.

“They both have very good judgement.”

Councillor Wayne Stokley was concerned over liability issues.

He said there were reports that on one occasion, “there were up to 65 people on the ice at one time with sticks and various pucks flying around. I am concerned with the safety of the individuals there.”

He asked about the liability of the township if someone gets injured.

“If they want to rent the facility and play hockey, I believe we’re covered. But if it is opened up [without restrictions], I think it opens up the possibility for injuries.”

Stokley’s other concern was with the volunteers managing the ice if they are required to deal with people not using the ice properly.

He stressed the proposal was only for a month.

“A decision needed to be made.”

Councillor Ken Roth said “It’s a very difficult decision to make.”

He too shared the belief that the Optimist Club’s intent was to offer free time for kids - not older teenagers endangering the lives of kids.

“The problems at this facility have been high quality hockey players who don’t have much courtesy for anyone but themselves. We tried to eliminate that problem. The unfortunate part is that young kids may suffer because of this decision.”

Roth said he felt if anything was changed from the previous night’s decision, it would be that time might be set aside for kids to play hockey with their parents as a family time.”

He said a number of the older kids using the facility are from out of town, or outside the township.

“They’ve kind of taken over the facility at times and caused grief. I think they are old enough to rent it.”

However he was uncertain how to determine which age group should have free time or which ones should pay rent.

To make it simply, Roth advocated the free time should be for young kids and their parents.

Councillor Jerry Schmidt agreed there should be free times available for hockey - or sticks.

“I agree it’s a very difficult decision to pin down in black and white to make a rule at any given time.”

He said the situation will change from day to day, and hour to hour.

Schmidt said what is needed is the time to evaluate a few options to make an intelligent decision.

“I think we need a cooling off period to find out what the best avenue would be.”

Lever said council was being asked if it was willing to leave it up to staff to make the call how times would be allocated.

Although he anticipated staff would allow time for hockey, he did not want to see the times for skating suffer because of it.

“They would have to find the time someplace else.”

He did not have a problem with staff taking the responsibility, provided the other concerns were taken into account - such as the fact that larger and smaller kids do not mix well on the rink.

“They would have to find a time to separate them.”

He agreed with Roth when he said “when the Optimists proposed this facility initially, it was about kids.”

Lever added that definition did not include 20 plus year old experienced hockey players.

“It was for the youth of the community to use as much as possible.”

Law agreed that the facility could be promoted as family skating with sticks.

“If a group of 20 year olds came along, they could be told ‘sorry this is the family time’. I think it’s pretty simple.”

Law said part of the issue was that staff were taken aback by the commission’s decision because they’d been looking for a clarification as to whether they were offering enough free time - then suddenly the hockey part was taken away.

Law said there are times right after school there are a few hours when it is used by younger families and kids.

Stokley said by the same token parents could come with older children as well.

He said if council moves in this direction, he asked that those times are when staff are present - not just simply volunteers.

Lever asked whether council wanted staff to use its judgement to allow free times for skating with sticks.

Councillor, in general, agreed.

Stokley offered his support with the caveat that staff be on site when those free times are made available.

Lever asked that support be forward to staff.


December 30, 2011


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