The $20-million Upper Skeena Recreation Centre opening is delayed by tough construction conditions but should be ready this summer. (Facebook photo)

Upper Skeena Rec Centre now aiming for summer opening

Now-$20-million year-round rec centre has pilot program expanding Indigenous programs

With the wonderful weather that we have been having recently, it would be hard to imagine using an outdoor ice rink for activities such as hockey and figure skating, but that’s what has been going on in Hazelton for the past several years.

At one time the community had access to an old log A-frame but after that structure was condemned several years ago, the ice surface became an outdoor facility and when ice making equipment became unusable, the surface was abandoned.

The next step was to make plans to replace the facility and upgrade it so that additional activities might be enjoyed. Activities which required the larger ice surface would have to move elsewhere until the new facility was opened.

According to Bob Marcellin, administrator with Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine, the building is not yet complete but should be done by the end of February “so that as the owner we can start going into the building and getting it ready for operations.”

“We don’t have a firm start date yet,” he said.

“There used to be an old log A frame building put together by the community 40 to 50 years ago in the ‘70s and had reached it’s useful end,” he said.

He feels that the community should be able to have the building ready for use by the end of July.

It won’t be just a sheet of ice.

“On top of that, there was an add-on two-story structure which provided the dressing rooms and the concession area and that’s all it was. Several years ago, the A frame was condemned and had to be dismantled and it became an open sheet of ice. It became an outdoor rink for a period of time and this new facility will be replacing that,” he said.

Marcellin feels that it will be a nice facility. It will have a gymnasium, a community room and there are plans for a climbing wall as well. As a result, it becomes a more multi-purpose building and will be a tremendous benefit to the community.

This year, the minor hockey and figure skating people have been using Smithers ice time. With the weather conditions and the ice surface condition, Marcellin says that they could not use the ice machine and it was not worth upgrading it for the use it would get.

For the new building next season, the plan is to have the rink going in the fall.

“It should be ready for other uses before the fall,” he said.

Marcellin is excited in his description of the facility. There will be room for 500 spectators in the arena which will be a full-size NHL ice surface (compared to the smaller sheet that was in use), and there will be a full size gym.

Of course, there have been lots of fundraising activities for the facility and its operation and recently there have been some major contributions.

Dr. Peter Newberry has been in been in charge of corporate donations and has been doing quite an impressive job. According to Dr. Newberry, there have been several anonymous donations that have come in recently that make one raise a respective eyebrow.

One donation was at the $1-million-dollar mark, while another came in at the $3.2-million mark. While these funds will not cover all of the funding necessary for the construction and operations cost, they will go a long way in covering the start-up of the facility.

The major contributors to the fundraising campaigns have been the regional communities and districts which will be using the facility, such as the Hazeltons and First Nations. They have all kicked in significant funds, and the Gitxsan Government Commission and the federal and provincial governments have come up with $11.7 million.

On the major donor level, there has been some remarkable success considering the small size of the communities.

“The Bulkley Valley credit union gave us $100,000 very early on about seven years ago to get us started,” said Newberry.

In addition, the elected Chiefs have donated about $1.5 million and earlier on the hereditary chiefs had contributed $350,000 to get help get the ball rolling They also linked the program with a bio-mass heating system which will contribute to help cut operation costs about $30-50,000 per year.

“There has been good fundraising within the community and despite the fact that we do not have a large tax base, we have done very well,” said Newberry.

When the project started, “we were asked to raise about $2 million and it became very clear early on that that amount would not do much of anything. So, in the meantime our goal became about $15 million for what a new year-round rec centre would cost, just in capital terms,” according to Newberry.

There have been delays due to construction issues such as running into bedrock almost as soon as it started. Those delays and additional costs have increased the capital costs to around $20 million.

“As a small community we’ve done very well, and the support from the province, the federal government and the anonymous donors has been very good,” said Newberry.

On the program side, there will need to be around $2 million. There will be basketball, volleyball, racket sports and so on. There will be a fitness centre and they are looking for money for a climbing wall. There will be community room which will be used for meetings and the hope is for the high school and the community college and perhaps some use for conferences.

“Once we get it going, it will be a fairly humming place. Its something that has been badly needed for a long time. We hope that the surrounding villages can use it as a springboard to expand their own programs. They’ve got recreation plans that they want to get into place and we hope we can support them with those plans as well,” he said.

According Newberry, the provincial government is using Hazelton as a pilot to look at developing and expanding Indigenous recreation programs. They’ll be looking at recreation leadership certification programs specifically in rural and isolated communities.

That’s another component that’s a result of the planning that has been done locally and the programming that will continue to be looked at as the facility gets up and running.

People or organizations which are interested in donations can contact Julie Maitland at 250-847-1158.

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