What is the current usage rates of our arenas? I see calls for a third area, but I don’t know how often our current arenas are empty, or how many groups trying to book ice time would be unable to do so.
Simple answer is I don’t know, but my reflex answer is that our arenas are well used, rarely empty, but not bursting at the seams. As usual, that answer needs to be put into context of how the City plans and builds new and replacement facilities.
A new facility, be it a swimming pool, a skating rink, or a skate board park, has a capital cost (what it costs to build the thing on the day we build it and over the long term in upkeep and maintenance), and an operating cost (what it costs every year to keep the lights on, staff to maintain the ice and run programs in the facility). Those second costs can be small, like a skate park, which costs very little to maintain once built; or very high, like the old Canada Games Pool, which is a real energy and resources hog.
Conversely, many facilities earn revenue from pool or ice rentals and program fees, but it is almost a fundamental principle of public recreation facilities that the revenue never covers the capital and operational costs. For every person who walks into the Canada Games Pool to swim, take a fitness class, or drop heavy weights on the heads of change room occupants, the City subsidizes their visit by about $2. There is no financial model where a pool with services like the Canada Games Pool even breaks even on earned revenue (otherwise private business would be competing us out of the business, no?), and models where private companies run ice rinks rarely provide a high level of programming without significant support from clubs and local governments. Many facilities, such as the library, the skate park, or a playground, earn little or no revenue, but are nonetheless important amenities to improve the quality of life of people in a community.
I mix all of these together because building a new facility is never a stand-alone decision. It is *always* about placing things in a priority, which means both understanding the (perceived and actual) demand, and recognizing how existing and new facilities impact your capital and operating budgets.
The demand part can sometimes be recognized by the public and user groups before it comes to the attention of Council, who ultimately hold the purse strings and have to make the priority call. However, lacking a very motivated special interest group, it is much more common that staff who operate these facilities recognize capacity issues or unmet need and bring these challenges to Council through strategic and budget planning. This is the situation with library upgrades, with the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre replacements, with the expansion of the Queensborough Community Centre, and with the decisions we have made to invest in more flexible (but much more expensive) turf field replacements.
Sometimes, those priorities get shuffled by events. A neighbouring community building a new pool or an event like the Arenex collapse can shuffle the deck, causing us to move priorities in order to assure our program needs are met, and to assure we have the capital flexibility to deal with unexpected needs when they occur. The Arenex is an example of something that we now have to add to our capital budget, and to our planning. The capital cost of its replacement is covered for the most part by insurance, but it still needs to be included in a budget, and we still need to take staff off of existing projects to go through the replacement planning, project management, procurement and design work to make sure we replace it with the right thing. Again, staff time is one more thing that has to sit in a priority list – what work do we delay to rush the replacement of the Arenex?
So back to answering your question. We have not heard from staff that there is a huge unmet demand for ice in the community or the region, at least not in comparison to other unmet needs that have been placed higher in the capital planning priority list. And they would know better than I would, as they are the ones managing the day-to-day resource needs of the community.
That said, with recent requests from some members of the public, Council has asked staff to do a bit of work and better define for us where a third sheet of ice (or other ice allocation improvements) fits on the capital plan priority list, and whether there is a compelling demand case for moving it up. This has to also include some analysis of where ice demand is regionally so we can better understand how the two new ice sheets on our border in Burnaby and two more sheets in Port Coquitlam will impact regional needs. So staff are going to add this work to their work plans, and prioritize it alongside ongoing work to support the Arenex programs and plan the replacement, getting the Canada Games Pool project ready for senior government grants, and all of the other capital works already in our plans. This is a responsible way to approach new capital funding requests, whether they come to us from staff’s understanding of need, or from a data-gathering petition at the beginning of an election campaign.