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Extended season for Toronto skating rinks proposed

Keeping an extra 19 rinks open longer would cost more than $550,000 a year.
June 15, 2015
By David Rider

Toronto city staff want to more than double the number of outdoor rinks that can stay open until the end of March break.

The recommendation to parks and environment committee follows a bitterly cold winter when planned closures triggered howls of protest.

Parks director Richard Ubbens wants to add 19 identified rinks to the list of 17 that currently have an extended season, from Nov. 28 to March 20.

The other 16 rinks would remain on the regular Dec. 5 to Feb. 28 schedule.

If city council ultimately agrees, the extra cost - $556,000 - would be added to the 2015-16 parks budget.

As Toronto shivered through record-breaking cold this pas winter, many skaters were caught off-guard in late February when staff started shutting off compressors and locking gates at a majority of the total 52 outdoor rinks.

With no money budgeted for staff and equipment costs to keep them open, city officials scrambled to find $200,000 in total donations from Tim Hortons and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. That kept a total of 29 rinks open through the school holiday.

City council then directed staff to look at budgeting to extend the season, including a contingency fund that would not be used when warm weather and sunlight prevent ice-making.

Half of the new extra cost would go to the rinks budget, with the rest aimed at a contingency fund to be tapped only if the weather allows the two final weeks of skating.

City statistics from the end of last winter show how rink use drops as soon as the mercury starts to rise.

The busiest Saturday of the period, Feb. 28, saw 7,721 skaters at outdoor city rinks. Three weeks later, amid spring temperatures, that figure had melted to only 1,147.

Councillor Paula Fletcher, an avid skater who led the charge to keep rinks open longer, was cautiously optimistic Monday, saying she wants to get feedback on the plan from her Riverdale and Leslieville residents.

The choice of the 19 rinks, made by staff based on criteria including geographic diversity and ability to withstand warmer temperatures, might not make everyone happy, she said.