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Outdoor skating rink to be built at Fenlands following public outcry

Administration is also investigating other potential locations for outdoor skating rinks in town following widespread public criticism that council turned down a rink on Bear Street earlier this month.
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The skating rink on Bear Street, pictured here, is not going ahead this winter. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BANFF – An outdoor skating rink is being developed at the Fenlands recreation centre and other potential locations are under investigation following public outcry that the tourist town would have no outdoor rink this winter.

At a meeting on Monday (Nov. 22), council directed administration to return on Dec. 13 with options for publicly accessible outdoor skating rinks, including projected budgets. In the meantime, council gave the go-ahead for a small outdoor rink at the Fenlands.

“I am pleased that a more suitable alternative will be brought forward that can include sticks and pucks as well as skating,” said Councillor Ted Christensen, who voted against establishing a rink on Bear Street in favour of parking earlier this month.

“I want to clarify that outdoor skating and hockey is a priority on my agenda as well as the maintenance of the Bear Street parking and the revenue that is associated with that parking.”

The traditional outdoor skating rink at the Banff Community High School field is not going ahead this year because of concerns about damage to the turf associated with the rink.

Damage from last ice season meant it did not fully open until late August, resulting in students having limited access to outdoor activities for physical education and extra-curricular activities.

As a result, administration pitched building a rink on the Bear Street surface parking lot for the second winter in a row, along with the addition of a mini-curling rink as part of a bigger plan to create a winter hub of activity on the $9.5 million newly redeveloped shared street.

However, council voted 3-2 against the proposal earlier this month, with councillors Pettigrew, Christensen and Barb Pelham raising concerns about the size of the rink as well as a loss of parking, especially for residents needing easier access to nearby medical facilities and services.

The decision drew swift rebuke from the community, who vented on social media sites and who wrote letter after letter to council expressing disappointment that the townsite would have no downtown outdoor skating rink.

This week, however, councillors Pettigrew and Christensen got unanimous support from their council colleagues for a notice of motion they co-sponsored to direct administration to look at alternative locations and associated budgets.

In addition, Mayor Corrie DiManno convinced councillors to move forward on an outdoor rink in the meadow by the Fenlands recreation centre while additional options are investigated over the next two weeks.

“I think this is a good option we can move on right away,” she said.

The outdoor rink at the Fenlands will be about 12,000-square feet.  For context, the rink at the high school was approximately 20,000-square-feet and the Bear Street rink was about 8,400-square-feet.

DiManno said the decision against the Bear Street rink is exacerbated by the fact that the high school field is not an option this year.

“I think that really created the demand that we know is already there for downtown accessible ice in winter,” she said.

“I’m hearing we’re probably going to need a couple of rinks to meet that demand and the reality is there’s no magical piece of land that’s the same size as the high school,” she added.

“People may need need to also temper their expectations when it comes to what we’re going to be able to provide.”

While keen to see other potential options for skating rinks, Coun. Chip Olver also liked the idea of an outdoor rink in the meadow by the Fenlands again this year.

“It’s bigger than Bear Street, and the size of Bear Street was a concern of mine, and there may be other options that have been alluded to in the conversation that haven’t been made public,” she said.

“It is smaller than the high school, but you are close to amenities for people to get their skates on and off, to go inside and warm up, there’s bathrooms, there’s chocolate, so I would see that as a very viable alternative.”

The community skating rink at Middle Springs is believed to be going ahead again this year and other traditional rinks in town, such as one by the Waldhaus, are on private property owned by the Fairmont Banff Springs and may not be available for public use.

Liricon has expressed an interest in working with the Town of Banff on a rink by the train station.

“They have expressed some interest in working with us, as well as one other location,” said Town Manager Kelly Gibson. “We would be responsible for all costs associated, though, with that rink.”

While last year the small outdoor rink at the Fenlands was available for skating, sticks and pucks and shinny were not permitted.

Alison Gerrits, the director of community services for the Town of Banff, said there were strict COVID-19 protocols in place last year.

“That prevented certain activities from occurring due to the distancing requirements and the various rules that were out on sport at the time,” she said.

“However, we can manage those kinds of things with hours and different kinds of activities permitted at certain times this year.”

Coun. Pettigrew said he was hopeful that the Beaver Street side of the high school field could be used for a skating rink.

“I would like to see that as the No. 1 option if possible because that is the best location of all because people are closer to downtown,” he said.

However, Gibson said he does not believe that is an option for Canadian Rockies Public Schools, noting it is more about damage to the turf than whether it’s located on the Beaver Street or Banff Avenue side of the field.

“It’s not about whether we use the exact same location on the field, it’s the damage to the field, and the amount of time that it took to rejuvenate,” he said.

“We’re asked not to use their field, which would encompass all the field in my mind, for the use of an ice rink. It’s not as simple as moving it off to the back half of the field, it’s that they want that field for the full year and last year we didn’t give it back to them until August.”

Gibson said Central Park is not an option either given activity underway associated with the construction of a new pedestrian bridge across the Bow Rover from Central Park to the recreation grounds.

“That one is ruled out, although it could be something we could look at in following years,” he said, noting it would be likely more of a skating track than a rink to play hockey.