The roof of the condemned Hazelton ice arena is being demolished to create an outdoor rink, giving local clubs a place to skate this winter.
The 44-year-old Ken Trombley Memorial Arena was closed suddenly in March after a structural engineer found a beam in the roof was at risk of falling on the ice.
The closure brought the skating season to an abrupt end and left community hockey and figure skating clubs without a home.
After a series of community meetings, the Skeena Ice Arena Association determined the roof should be demolished so the existing surface can be used as an outdoor rink.
George Burns, who represents the District of New Hazelton at the Association, said demolition was already close to half finished.
“It should wrap up some time mid-September,” said Burns.
“The refrigeration for the ice surface is still in place and will be functional and actually part of the contract was to protect the cement slab with all the refrigeration piping in it and the boards from the last [arena] during the demolition.”
News that the outdoor arena is likely to be usable this season is a relief for local clubs like the Hazelton Minor Hockey Association.
President Ryneld Starr said there were times when the upcoming season was in doubt.
“We were quite scared that there wasn’t going to be a season and we were thinking of all our contingency plans, maybe operating completely out of Smithers for the whole year but that wouldn’t be ideal,” said Starr.
He said the club’s teams would practice and play as normal at the outdoor rink.
“Obviously it’s probably going to be weather dependant so we’re probably going to have a few days where we get rained out and we can’t play,” he said.
“We’re going to get on the ice as much as we can.”
The association will rent ice time in Smithers if it is not cold enough to skate outdoors when the season starts in October.
Hazelton Skating Club coach Stacey Brown said her club would also be running its program for young skaters when the outdoor arena is ready to use.
Although some older competitive skaters will travel to train with the Smithers Figure Skating Club, Brown said many parents of younger members wanted the local program.
“They would rather have some cancellations of skating days due to inclement weather or ice conditions rather than having their kids registered in Smithers and have to do that driving which basically they said they won’t do,” said Brown.
“They either can’t do it because they work and it would be impossible to put in two hours of driving for the kids to be on the ice for an hour or they don’t have a vehicle, or they have a vehicle and it’s just prohibitive to pay for that much gas.”
However, Brown said more funds were still needed to get the arena ready before winter.
The association has already used its operating budget for the next two years, plus $100,000 from the District of New Hazelton, to demolish the roof.
Brown said more money was needed to pay for lights, a hut to house the zamboni, electricity and propane to maintain the ice surface.
Fundraising efforts at the Kispiox Music Festival and Pioneer Day raised a combined $9,000.
A further $1,400 was raised at a raffle and donations of $4,600 were collected at a fundraising barbecue.
An ongoing gofundme campaign has also raised more than $3,000.
“There’s definitely it seems a large community support to see this facility available for our kids to use,” said Brown.
The association is now preparing to launch a campaign encouraging donors to sponsor a light pole.
The outdoor arena is an interim solution to keep clubs operating and skaters active until plans to build a multi-use recreation centre at the same site come to fruition.
Heart of the Hazeltons is a separate fundraising drive for the construction of the multi-use Upper Skeena Recreation Centre.
That campaign has already raised $5 million of the total $15 million project cost.
The project is waiting on an application for $10 million in gas tax funding which would enable construction to begin, but the approvals process has been stalled by the federal election.
In the meantime, Heart of the Hazeltons chairperson Peter Newbery said the campaign had secured a “significant” donation from a local agency.
He said the organization was not ready to announce the amount however he was optimistic construction of the new centre would start soon.
“The signs are encouraging that we will be able to get the construction [of a new arena] underway within the next six months or so,” he said.
To donate to the outdoor arena campaign visit gofundme/kentrombleyarena.