Does city need more rinks?
User groups maintain twin-pad arena is needed, but statistics don't back them up

by Ian Elliot and Cam Stewart
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 10/97) - The debate over a city-owned twin-pad arena for continues to grab headlines in the thick of a municipal election campaign.

Hockey enthusiast Ter Hamer most recently pitched the arena to city council in June, 1996, as a $3.5-million solution to Yellowknife's ice-time crunch for kids who play ice sports.

Hamer originally came up with the idea in the 70s and first pitched it to council in the early 90s, but it wasn't until late last December that official plans began.

Despite thousands of dollars being sunk into those plans by city hall, the facility, now priced at $10.5 million, has yet to get off the ground.

Hamer, backed up by a number of ice-based sports organizers, maintains that a new twin-pad arena is necessary for the development of young hockey players and figure skaters.

However, figures supplied by the city show Yellowknife has adequate ice time, at least while the aging Gerry Murphy Arena is still standing.

It and the newer Yellowknife Community Arena open daily at 6 a.m. The Murphy arena finishes for the day at about 10 p.m. Yellowknife Arena's last rentals finish up around midnight.

Grant White of the city's community services department says the arenas' hours can be extended, but there has been no demand from the community to do so.

Eleven user groups, from broomball and speed skaters to minor and adult hockey, share the available ice. Dividing ice time is done by consensus at a spring meeting, where group needs are determined, White said.

There are very few conflicts over ice-time needs.

"For the most part, everyone gets along," he said.

Additional ice time is sold by the hour, which in Yellowknife means a pick-up hockey game for a few friends after work costs $113 an hour for prime-time ice and $85 for off-prime ice. Lower rates are available for mixed groups of adults and children and children only.

Prime ice in Yellowknife is ice rented between 4 p.m. and midnight through the week and between 8 a.m. and midnight on weekends.

Minor hockey is the single biggest user of ice in the city. It uses 44 hours a week of prime ice and six of non-prime ice at Yellowknife Arena and another five and a half hours of ice at Gerry Murphy each week.

By comparison, the two figure skating clubs use 27 hours a week between them.

And while there's no question Yellowknife needs at least two ice surfaces to comfortably accommodate all user groups, outside of those groups, there is little support for a "Cadillac" twin-pad facility.

At an aldermanic candidates forum Tuesday night, several candidates said the proposed facility is too costly, not enough research has gone into it, and the Twin Pine Hill site is the wrong location.

One candidate even said Yellowknife kids think the facility would be a waste of money.

"One hundred per cent of the kids I've talked to don't think the money should be invested in a new arena," Cheryl Best said.

User-group organizers don't see it that way. For them, ice time is only part of the issue.

"We're a capital city. I know we're not up there in population, but we can attract more high-calibre events with a two-surface facility," said Linda Pellerin, coaching instructor of the Great Slave Figure Skating Club.

"We need more ice time. We need prime ice time. It's hard for parents to get kids to the rink at four in the afternoon. It's also hard for the coaches to get there...and we can't run recreational programs at six in the morning."

Pellerin also noted Gerry Murphy is on its last legs.

"You can't drink the water at Gerry Murphy. The roof leaks every fall; every fall and spring we lose a lot of ice time because the ice is being resurfaced. The war horse is dying."

Yellowknife Broomball Association president Lynn Fowler agreed.

"They should have built the twin pad back in the 197O's, when they (city council) originally discussed it," the 18-year broomball veteran said.

"If there's a way of proving the population will grow in the future we'll need three surfaces. If it decreases we'll only need the two."

"Right now I think there's an overflow. If you ask anyone who involved in ice sports they'll tell you. The third pad is needed to control overflow."

Gary Vivian, past-president of the Yellowknife Minor Hockey Association said ice time isn't the only issue that must be taken into consideration.

"All the ice users want to use the Yk arena because currently it's the only surface that has the minimum requirements to run sanctioned speed skating events and has the minimum requirements for figure skating," he said.

He said those in opposition to building the new arena haven't approached him and "they sure haven't talked to the 400 kids enroled in minor hockey, the largest ice-block users in the city."