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Kid sport advocate stages one-person protest outside Civic Centre Arena

Bill McDonnell staged his one-person protest outside the Civic Centre Arena entrance on Vernon Street Tuesday, protesting closure later this month of the ice facilities. — Submitted photo

A former senior hockey player and long-time advocate for kid sports began conducting his own one-person protest outside the Civic Centre Arena after the Regional District of Central Kootenay announced it was closing the ice facility at the end of January.

The RDCK said a lack of revenue due to the COVID-19 public health orders restricting social interactions and participation in team sport forced the District Recreation Commissions in both Nelson and Castlegar to halt operations at the Civic Centre Arena, January 29th, and Pioneer Arena in the Sunflower City, January 18th.

“Voice for KIDS! Support for Volunteers! Respect for Heritage!,” said Bill McDonnell when asked why he’s staging the one-person protest Tuesday outside the Civic Centre entrance, complete with placard reading “Civic Arena Keep Ice For Kids Play”.

“To share my concern for the process that led to this decision and its short-term and potential long-term impact on our community.”

McDonnell, a retired schoolteacher who taught for many years in Nelson after graduating from the former Notre Dame University on an Ernie Gare Scholarship said he speaks to the Civic Arena closure, which, as stated by the NDCC Managers, will realize saving of $24,000 from the decision.

“Firstly, I’m not sure that it is the actual net saving as no operation revenue vs expenses were disclosed,” said McDonnell, a regular attendee at the Nelson and District Recreation Commission meetings.

“When the Nelson Regional Council operated the Civic ice surface, it was financially stable, either a profit or a wash,” McDonnell added.

McDonnell also questions the process of the decision.

“The report and subsequent recommendation to close the Civic Arena, was presented as a “late-item” with no supporting documentation available to the public online,” he explained.

“The next order of business was to determine where the report was to be positioned relative to other agenda items.”

Bill McDonnell protests the recent decision of the RDCK Rec Commission to close the Civic Centre ice facility later this month. — Submitted photo

McDonnell said although, a Special Meeting to focus on budgetary items was called the report was placed as an isolated financial item prior to the above-mentioned sub-items.

“Thus, before the entire financial picture for 2020 and 2021 could be considered, the ‘closure report’ was discussed and decided upon to accept the recommendation. Further in the meeting, potential new revenues were stated by the RDCK CAO and the City’s CFO,” McDonnell explained.

General Manager of Community Services Joe Chirico said the RDCK is committed to keeping the Primary arenas in Creston, Castlegar and NDCC in the Heritage City open for their regular season schedule.

However, it comes down to dollars and cents whether facilities can continue to operate.

“Each year the district has an operating budget that is heavily subsidised by taxation,” Chirico explains.

“What taxation does not cover rental, user fees, and specified grants for capital projects does.”

Chirico said taxation plus user fees equal an operating season for Arenas, Pools, Fitness Centres, Meeting/Banquet spaces, Parks and many other services.

But when one revenue source drops and cannot be recovered in another fashion, the “operating season or service level” needs to be reduced to control net costs.

“If we did not do this and manage this balance, net cost overruns could impact other services that the RDCK offers or make it more difficult to fund operations in the fall when we hope to be back to near normal operations,” Chirico said.

McDonnell feels the RDCK Rec Commission in Nelson made a snap decision and did not consider other options before deciding to close the ice facility at the Civic Centre Arena.

McDonnell would like to have seen more consultation with ice-user clients regarding the impact on kids/families/volunteers of short-term and long-term closure of the Civic Arena ice surface — both during COVID-19 and post-COVID-19; prioritize program services and related costs; as well as have management to provide a financial statement of the Civic Arena’s operation revealing revenues and expenses.

“I would have liked to see the Rec Commission consider potential revenues via BC COVID Relief Grants to offset present and potential surplus from Serve S226 2020 Financial Update,” McDonnell said.

“Then, with all pertinent information, the Rec Commission 5 reconsider the information and vote to support closure or not.”

The Civic Centre Arena, at 85 years young, is the is the oldest functional ice surface in BC.

McDonnell feels present citizens experience a similar sense of attachment to heritage buildings, which ought to be respected, honoured and maintained. 

“As long as my 76 old legs will permit and is necessary to fully represent the voices of KIDS to decision-makers,” McDonnell said when asked about the duration of the protest.

 “I feel during this specific time and worldly conditions, which all are experiencing, a decision inflicted on kids, does not align with Dr. Henry’s message, ‘we are all in this together, be kind be calm, and select one sport’.”

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