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Banff admin ‘jumping the gun’ with retrofitting Fenlands pitch: Councillor

“It’s been a lifelong dream of many ice users past and present to have a second ice surface and it would be totally disrespectful to the volunteers and ice users who worked tirelessly to push for that second ice arena."
The Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre. RMO FILE PHOTO

BANFF – The Town of Banff is reviewing long-term options at Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre, which includes potentially retrofitting one of its ice rink arenas into a year-round field house.

However, local ice sport associations and ice rink supporters, including a member of town council, believe removing the second sheet of ice would be a disservice to the community.

At Banff’s Governance and Finance Committee meeting on Monday (Aug. 10), the centre of focus was on Arena 2 and other west wing space at Fenlands, which is currently being under utilized following the sale and departure of Banff Hockey Academy (BHA) in May.

Last month, Banff administration pitched the proposal to convert Arena 2 into a year-round field house and community hub for a wide-range of users. The proposal also included having a gym or fitness area included into the west wing space, which could be used as a revenue generator.

In all, three possible scenarios were brought forward by administration for leasehold space at Arena 2, including a private lease like with BHA; public/non-profit partnership like with the Banff Curling Club; and a public entity run by the municipality, which includes the field house proposal. Part of its recommendation to the committee was to go to the community to gain feedback on its wants and needs for the space at Fenlands.

“The intent was to find out if there were missing areas that the general public were looking for,” said Kelly Gibson, town manager. “We have some inclination from the studies that we’ve done that there are missing recreation activities that others would like to explore, so our intent of going through this is to see if council wanted to look at other alternatives for the use of this facility.”

Councillor Brian Standish opposed the field house proposal and said administration is "jumping the gun" on seeking public input about the space.

“It’s been a lifelong dream of many ice users past and present to have a second ice surface and it would be totally disrespectful to the volunteers and ice users who worked tirelessly to push for that second ice arena,” said Standish. “For us to turn our backs now on their efforts, I believe is totally disrespectful.”

Standish added it would be “fiscally irresponsible” and a “slap in the face to the taxpayers of Banff” to spend the estimated $2.2 million on facility upgrades to convert Arena 2 into a field house.

Coun. Corrie DiManno said she is in support of doing due diligence in the community and receiving feedback on its wants and needs.

"We haven’t had the opportunity to have this conversation in a long time, or maybe ever,” she said. “I think the intent was always for ice, so I think it would be a really good opportunity to hear just what’s out there. I think we should take our time with this and absolutely get it right.”

Coun. Grant Canning also supported seeking public feedback.

"One thing I keep going back to is there's a lot of activities in the winter time that currently do not have space outside of ice related activities, so whether or not council does move forward with the field house, I don't think those activities have the voice right now that perhaps the ice users do have," Canning said. "I want to hear from those groups and see what their thoughts are about this." 

The Fenlands rec centre, operated by the Town of Banff, includes two ice rinks, four curling sheets, offices, concourse, and a concession and lounge area.

After the sale of BHA, now the South Alberta Hockey Academy in Dunmore, Alta., the academy’s lease was terminated at Fenlands where a dedicated wing was built with offices, dressing rooms, a physiotherapy room, storage, three high performances rooms and access to the rest of the facility. BHA contributed $120,000 per year on average in facility rental revenues for the Town.

Alison Gerrits, Banff’s director of community services, said the facility is having immediate revenue impact following the academy's departure.

“That is why we need to start having conversations around what our future is going to look like and how we’re going to in the long-term address this loss to our operating model,” she said. “It’s not just, from our perspective, the revenue. It’s also the activity conversation. We don’t want to have a facility that is not being used to its potential.”

Community letters in support of keeping the second ice surface at Fenlands called its potential removal “to the detriment of the community.”

“It is frustrating that we have this facility in our town, but we will be unable to offer our own associations the appropriate ice time needed to facilitate proper programming,” wrote Dagny Dubois, president of the Banff Skating Club.

“Zooming out into the larger community, we feel that going down to one sheet of ice will impact all of the local ice sport associations negatively and truly feel it is in the best interest of everyone that we use Fenlands in its full capacity as an ice sport facility.”

Resident and Banff Minor Hockey registrar, Samantha Frey, said the Town focusing on cost recovery, as opposed to promoting sport, is “perhaps misguided.” 

“Pandemic aside, I feel using our Fenland facility as is, rather than proposing changes that will involve financial investment and cannot operate under COVID-19 restrictions (ie. weight room), would be more responsible to our community,” Frey wrote.

The town hasn’t approved an official community feedback session(s); instead, a motion was passed directing administration to return to the Governance and Finance Committee by no later than October with a financial debrief on the Fenlands.

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

Jordan Small joined the Outlook in 2014 and covers the vast world of sports in the Bow Valley. A Barrie, Ont. native, he also wrote for RMO's Mountain Guide section and the MD of Bighorn beat.
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