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The Globe and Mail

Toronto councillor urges city to keep outdoor ice rinks open into March

This skater was one of only two to brave the extremely cold, bitter temperatures while skating at Nathan Phillips Square on Jan. 2 2014.


Toronto Councillor Paula Fletcher wants the city to let skaters get the most out of this year's cold weather and keep more rinks open into March.

This weekend was the last call for most of the city's 52 outdoor skating rinks, with 17 remaining open for an extra three weeks.

But Ms. Fletcher, who tries to skate most days at a city rink, says given the frigid weather it does not make sense to shut so many rinks for the season. Next week, she also plans to ask the Parks Committee to change its rink policy to avoid this kind of problem in future years.

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"I want to keep Toronto skaters on the ice," she said Wednesday.

Ms. Fletcher has written to the deputy city manager responsible for parks and to Toronto's chief financial officer asking for the extension for this season. She estimates it costs about $25,000 to keep a rink open for an extra three weeks.

"That's a no-brainer – keep people skating while they can skate," she said.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly said he hopes staff can find the money to extend the season at more rinks.

"As a guy that skated as a kid to the very last moment I would hope that they would stay open," he said Wednesday. "There are always causes for which you can find money – I would argue that is one of them."

Ms. Fletcher said she has had a response from the city's CFO Rob Rossini, saying he has passed her request on to the parks department, but indicating that it is not just a case of finding the extra money.

"I assume he means there are logistics involved because the rinks closed on February 23," she said.

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The chair of the city's budget committee Frank Di Giorgio called the last-minute request "unrealistic."

"These things are planned in advance as far as money goes," he said Wednesday evening. "We have to draw the line somewhere."

The rinks are maintained by seasonal workers, he said, whose jobs ended last weekend.

A motion to extend the season by three weeks for the rink at Dieppe Park passed 36 to 7 at last week's council meeting with councillors Mike Del Grande, Sarah Doucette, Ron Moeser, John Parker, Jaye Robinson, Karen Stintz and Michael Thompson voting against it.

A report that went with the member's motion said it would cost the city $25,808 to extend the season - $7,500 for utilities and $18,308 for staff.

In order to avoid the problem in future years, Ms. Fletcher is asking the parks committee to change Toronto's rink policy and base the season on weather conditions, rather than the calendar. In mild years, she said, the city could put the money it saves when rinks close early into a contingency fund to be used in cold winters such as this one to extend the season.

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"Given the unpredictable nature of the weather in March…it would seem logical to build in flexibility," Ms. Fletcher writes in a letter to be considered by the committee at its meeting next week.

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