The artificial ice rink at Dufferin Grove Park is to remain open this winter after residents questioned the logic of closing the rink for renovations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city is currently in the process of renovating and improving the northwest corner of the park. This includes replacing the rink slab and refrigeration equipment, which was originally installed in 1993.
Work was to begin on the rink after last year’s skating season. After the procurement process and tender was extended due to COVID-19, construction was pushed back and was to begin this fall, with the ice rink scheduled to be reopened in November 2021.
The potential loss of a source for recreation and exercise at a time when gyms, restaurants and movie theatres might all be closed concerned local residents, many of whom voiced their displeasure in a neighbourhood Facebook group.
“Covid 19 could make this a bleak winter. Where will people exercise and socialize? There is no good reason to decommission skating rinks that would allow for free, unstructured, accessible outdoor recreation, exercise and social interaction,” wrote one Facebook group member. “The health and happiness of thousands in the community would be impacted.”
A subsequent online petition to keep the rink open for the 2020/2021 skating season garnered more than 1,000 signatures.
In a post on her Facebook page, city councillor Ana Bailao said that after hearing the community’s concerns, she asked the staff of the city’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation department to utilize a third-party engineering firm to conduct an assessment to look at the usability and safety of the rink.
In a letter to Bailao, dated Oct. 28, the general manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation Janie Romoff said that a technical assessment report on the existing refrigeration system determined it can be operated for one more skating season.
Romoff’s letter notes that the assessment identified a risk of the refrigeration system failing due to its age, which would render it inoperable for the remainder of the season. If this occurs, the Parks department will be ready to provide a natural ice rink, assuming weather conditions permit it.
“Our goal is to ensure the community will enjoy skating this season, when the need to access outdoor public spaces is greater than ever, during the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote Romoff.
The letter states that construction is now expected to start following the end of the 2021 skating season. The goal is to complete the project in summer 2022, making the rink unusable for the 2021-2022 skating season.
“We will work with the community to create a natural ice rink for winter 2022 while the renovation continues at the north-west corner of the park,” wrote Romoff