Simcoe and District Minor Hockey has identified major challenges with Norfolk’s strategy regarding the future management of local arenas.
At a recent executive meeting, SDMHA discussed Norfolk’s plan to close the arena at the Simcoe Recreation Centre and re-purpose it as the new location of the Simcoe Seniors Centre.
As well, SDMHA is worried that decommissioning the rec centre arena will impair the association’s ability to host tournaments.
Simcoe minor hockey is also alarmed that the county intends to invite proposals for the private management of Norfolk’s arenas in Port Dover, Delhi, Langton, Waterford and Talbot Gardens in Simcoe. This aspect of the strategy includes a proposal to close a second ice surface in Norfolk in time for the 2020-21 hockey and figure skating season.
“These decisions will result in significant operational and programming consequences to the SDMHA,” president Martin Jefferson said in a letter to Norfolk council on March 3.
“We hereby request your strong consideration of delaying these actions to allow for further consultation and consideration. We would be pleased to engage Norfolk County to discuss alternative and preferred solutions to the high cost of arena operations, of which there are many.”
Citing cost pressures, Norfolk council approved a number of closures and changes to the operations of county facilities during its levy-supported budget deliberations Jan. 28-29.
This includes the closure of the arena at the Simcoe Recreation Centre and the relocation of the Simcoe Seniors Centre to this space. The seniors centre is currently housed in a 19th-century industrial building on Pond Street that needs serious structural repair. The move includes the re-location of summer ice in Norfolk to the Tricenturena in Waterford.
SDMHA hosts five tournaments each winter. Jefferson says access to two ice surfaces in Simcoe is vital to the success of these events, especially the larger ones.
He cites the example of the recent Vic Jackson Memorial Tournament, which attracted 30 teams from across Ontario over four days in January.
“The economic impact to the region is significant,” Jefferson said. “All hotels, restaurants, and leisure facilities were fully booked during these events, generating tens of thousands of dollars to local businesses.”
Jefferson adds the closure of the rec centre arena is problematic because this is where the organization stages games and tournaments for players under nine years of age.
Hockey Canada mandates that organized games for players this young must be played cross-ice on a shortened surface. Talbot Gardens is not wide enough, Jefferson says, while the rec centre arena is.
“We anticipate that closing the Simcoe Rec Centre will severely limit our ability to host tournaments and we will not be able to hold any of our games for children under nine years old in Simcoe,” Jefferson says.
Jefferson adds that Norfolk’s plan to call proposals for the private management of the county’s remaining arenas could jeopardize SDHMA’s ability to stage tournaments of any sort. SDMHA wants guarantees it can plan, advertise and stage events “with confidence” going forward.
“Without the clarity of this information, it is also impossible for us to finalize our budget for the 2020-21 season, which is required to establish registration fees for our members,” Jefferson said.
“With 2020-21 tryouts commencing this April, we cannot fairly convey to our members the anticipated costs of playing, or even where they will be playing.
“We would also hope that – in putting out a request-for-proposal for private arena management – all conditions of such management are carefully crafted to ensure users’ expectations will be satisfied.
“We trust that it is our shared priority that Norfolk County’s image and brand reputation for the state and operation of its facilities is maintained, and also that SDMHA can host tournaments and other hockey events at any privately-managed arenas with confidence. We ask that there be engagement with user groups on such expectations prior to rolling out an RFP.”
Coun. Kim Huffman has been associated with minor hockey in Waterford over the years and will chair the council-in-committee meeting where the SDMHA letter will be received.
On March 4, Huffman said she suspects the letter will be received as information just like other correspondence from organizations that wish to share their concerns. She encourages all organizations, groups and individuals impacted by council decisions to share their thoughts in writing.
Huffman found it interesting that county staff didn’t catch the fact that closing the arena at the Simcoe Recreation Centre would impact tyke hockey in Simcoe. That, she said, will have to be reviewed.
“It looks to me that staff missed some of the criteria as far as it concerns Hockey Canada and the size of the arena needed for side-to-side ice,” Huffman said. “That was overlooked. That’s something that has to come forward for more discussion.”