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Markdale arena to remain closed, despite lightened COVID-19 restrictions

Grey Highlands officials say they have too few arena staff to keep all four municipal arenas open
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Although Grey Highlands was able to open three of its four municipal arenas as pandemic restrictions eased on Jan. 31, the Markdale arena will remain closed.

Users displaced from the Markdale arena will be able to rent ice time at other arenas at a reduced, non-prime time hourly rate.

Council made the decision on Feb. 2 due to municipal staffing issues that prevent all four arenas from re-opening.

At the outset of the season, the municipality had four arena attendants and four operators, but one operator has since resigned, and an attendant is off work for the season due to an unrelated injury, which left the municipality with inadequate staff to keep all four arenas open.

"Given that the Markdale and Flesherton arena are within 10 minutes of each other, we felt that was the best way to accommodate the user groups,"  said director of economic and community development Michele Harris. "We know this isn't an ideal solution."

Harris said the municipality has recruited for new staff, but that those efforts were unsuccessful.

"In December of this year, we put out a call for a casual attendant," she said. "We weren't even able to interview anybody – there was nobody who came forward that had any related, qualified credentials."

"We have gone to all of our neighbouring municipalities to request support – none of them have any available support to provide us. It's a tough marketplace out there."

CAO Karen Govan said that finding qualified arena operators can be particularly challenging.

"The position of arena operator is getting more and more difficult to recruit for," she said. "Because of the technology we have in our arenas, finding somebody with the refrigeration license is becoming more and more difficult."

Unhappy with the prospect of keeping the Markdale arena closed, members of council asked whether all arenas might be kept open on a rotating basis.

"I wonder if some alternate solution, where we could perhaps rotate the ... staffing, whether we could [rotate all] four arenas being open, if that might work," said Councillor Tom Allwood. "It concerns me that Markdale [does not have] an ice surface."

"I'm a little upset, disturbed by the fact that we are looking at closing Markdale," said deputy mayor Aakash Desai. "I don't think a blanket closure of Markdale is something I can support."

"In investigating other options, can we expect something back to council by the next council meeting?" Desai asked.

Harris responded that delaying action further would cut further into an already shortened season.

 "There's not enough time – the hockey season ends at the end of March," she responded. "If we take two weeks off of that, they've already been off for the entire month of January."

Govan said that keeping arenas open on a rotating basis would place undue stress on the remaining arena staff.

"Telling them to split their shift between A and B arena throughout the day causes undue stress on that individual," she said. "We have a large municipality and travelling from one arena to another in a day's work, and then setting up and doing their work and their inspections [at] another arena after working one arena is arduous.

"My concern is I don't want to lose another one of these valuable operators at this point in time."

The motion to keep the Markdale arena closed passed 4-2, with Desai and Allwood voting against it.

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About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie, LJI Reporter

Greg McGrath-Goudie covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands as part of the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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