NH Council approves pandemic recreation funds
BY DENNY SCOTT
A discussion regarding the cost behind sanitization required to reopen recreational facilities had some North Huron Council members considering limiting the municipality’s offerings to one arena.
Director of Recreation and Community Services Vicky Luttenberger explained that, due to sanitization requirements, new staff hours need to be approved, costing an additional $43,556.
In her report, Luttenberger explained a four-stage plan to reopen municipal facilities, adding that North Huron was currently part-way through it.
In August, the fitness centre reopened, followed by the municipality’s aquatic centre at the North Huron Wescast Community Complex on Sept. 8. The third stage is to reopen local arenas, she said, aiming for later in October. Following that, meeting rooms and the municipality’s community halls will open.
Luttenberger said reopening the arenas won’t be the same as it has been in previous years.
“The requirement for additional cleaning and disinfection, along with contact tracing and restricting access/limiting participation in programs, etc. will require additional staff and financial resources,” she said in her report. As a result, she said the cost to implement those protocols will be $43,556 plus benefits.
“To mitigate these costs, the township may be able to use a portion of the funding received from the province for COVID-19-related expenses,” she said, adding that the municipality may want to apply for more funding when those options become available.
She explained that there is interest in reopening both arenas, with sports organizations looking for places to play. Currently, Wingham users are only looking for five fewer hours per week over last year, while users of the Blyth centre would be 4.75 hours short.
Her suggestion is to limit usage to minor sports for the time being as other groups, specifically those catering to older athletes, can turn into social times, which wouldn’t meet the standards set out for use of the facility. She said part of making sure the groups aren’t meeting each other is to limit time in the changing rooms to 15 minutes after leaving the ice.
This follows practices that have been implemented at other sites, Luttenberger said, saying people need to book times during public swims and staff need different entrances and exits for the fitness centre and the arena at the Wescast Community Centre.
Luttenberger said minor sports organizations and other user groups have been happy to work with the municipality to move forward, and suggested that council approve the $43,556 expenditure to allow sports to go forward.
Councillor Paul Heffer, however, said he didn’t know if council needed to open two arenas during a pandemic.
“It’s hard enough to sustain two arenas in a good year,” he said. “We could just run one arena until we know what’s going on.”
Heffer pointed to the fact that events like the annual Wingham Silver Stick tournament had been cancelled as proof that not as much ice time was needed.
Luttenberger said that was an option, but “politics” may result in lost revenue if only one arena is opened. She said the Blyth Brussels Minor Hockey Association wouldn’t want to travel to Wingham if the Wescast centre was the only open arena. Inversely, she said Wingham Minor Hockey may not travel to Blyth and the Wingham Ironmen would definitely not play in Blyth, but they may practise there. “There are some politics there,” she said.
She went on to say the danger in only opening one arena is that groups may find they prefer other centres and not return in the future.
If council wanted to limit the municipality’s recreation services by opening one arena, she said non-local groups could be cut, including the Huron Heat hockey organization and a ringette association.
Luttenberger said, however, if only one centre were open, staff would recommend Blyth.
“It’s easier to deal with access to that facility,” she said. “We have to keep users separate.”
She said, because Blyth only offers the ice surface and not other amenities like the fitness centre and the aquatic centre in Wingham, it would make it ideal to be the only site open.
Deputy-Reeve Trevor Seip said the issue could have been solved several years ago if Wingham and Blyth’s minor hockey associations had merged instead of Blyth and Brussels. He went on to say that only having one centre likely wouldn’t solve the problem as all the organizations are vying for the same ice time.
Reeve Bernie Bailey said he would like to see user fees implemented for organizations that draw from outside the area like the Blyth Brussels Minor Hockey Association.
Councillor Anita van Hittersum recommended taking the funds from the COVID-19 emergency grant that had been given to the municipality and maintain the status quo for this year.
Seip agreed, saying that next year council could review the expenses and policies related to the arenas and try to figure out how the municipality could move forward.
“There’s more than just us,” he said. “Those user groups have their own idiosyncrasies, and belief systems. They believe they are entitled to something. Whether they are or not, that’s up for debate.”
Councillor Kevin Falconer said he wanted to see a recreation master plan as soon as possible, wondering why it had been delayed for so long. Reeve Bernie Bailey agreed, saying he thought it should have been presented to council by now. Staff explained the report was deferred due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a tender was now to be issued for the plan in October.
In the end, council approved Luttenberger’s suggestion, approving the $43,556 staff expense, plus benefits, to cover additional work needed for cleaning and sanitizing. In a recorded vote, Heffer was the only member to vote against it.