NNSL Photo/Graphic

Canadian North

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page

Fort Smith arena fire could mean winter without rink
Community concerned, waits for repair estimates

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, May 20, 2013

Fort Smith is facing the possibility that it will not have a usable arena this coming winter due to damage from a fire.

According to a prepared statement from the Town of Fort Smith, the Fort Smith Centennial Arena is closed until further notice "due to the process of inspection and determination of loss and repair costs ... and will likely not be usable for the 2013/2014 ice season."

It is believed a fire at the arena started in the early morning of May 13 and burned for a number of hours before being discovered by town workers.

The Fort Smith Volunteer Fire Department responded to the fire at about 8 a.m. and it was fully extinguished before noon.

On May 15, Mayor Brad Brake said no cause had been determined.

"There's speculation that it might be electrical, but no actual determination," he said.

The fire is currently under investigation by the office of the fire marshal.

Brake said it is actually hard to see most of the damage, which he describes as having affected about a 13.7-metre-wide section of the stands - between the floor and the back wall of the stands and the inner wall of the sloping roof.

There is fire damage, along with water and smoke damage. The ceiling above two exterior fire exits is gone and there is some burning in the floor of the stands.

There is also some damage to walls where firefighters got access to the fire.

It is believed the fire started in an area of the stands known as the press box, which is used most often for spotlights for figure skating.

"It may have actually started underneath the floor of the stands, between the ceiling of the change rooms and the floor of the stands," Brake said.

The mayor said it is hard to put a dollar figure on the damage until insurance adjusters complete their report.

Fort Smith Centennial Arena was built in 1967, meaning it is 46 years old. Brake said the planned life of the facility was 50-60 years.

"Because of the age of the facility, there might be considerable cost associated with a code upgrading," he said. "Because when you repair a facility like that, you have to bring it up to code."

That raises the possibility that it might be better to replace the arena, rather than repair it.

The mayor said it is too early to know if replacement is a real option and that will depend on the cost of repairing the facility.

Brake said the replacement cost of an ice rink could reach up to between $12 million and $15 million.

Brake said based on discussions with the insurance adjusters, it will take about 90 days to check the

structural integrity of the arena, which will move the process to August.

The mayor said there would be no way to get repairs done in two months before the ice would normally be installed in October, since the process would require a tender call, possibly structural drawings and the actual repairs.

"It would probably take quite a bit past October," he said.

Jessica Cox, chair of the Fort Smith Recreation Advisory Board and a user of the arena, said it is still too early to know for sure what the situation will be next winter with the arena.

"There's definitely a lot of concern," she added.

Cox said arena users have been advised to plan for next winter without the use of the arena.

The facility is used by many, including residents involved in skating, hockey, speedskating and figure skating.

Brake said the town will get all user groups together to discuss the problem and consider options.

"There's a possibility of some outdoor rinks," he said. "We do have some places here in town where we can put some outdoor rinks."

Cox said there is only one existing outdoor rink with boards in the community, and that is at the Trailcross Treatment Centre.

She said some people are even talking about the possibility of travelling to Hay River and Fort Resolution to use the arenas in those communities.

However, Cox - who used the arena six days a week - hopes it doesn't come to that and the Fort Smith arena can somehow be used next winter.

"I still cling to hope," she said.

Brake said the idea of a large fabric structure to cover a rink has been raised, noting the town recently priced such a structure for a storage shed for about $180,000.

"That might be a little too expensive," he said.

"I don't know yet."

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.