An anonymous-for-now donor has stepped forward to kickstart a 10-year-plus dream of adding a second rink to the Leaside Gardens.
The announcement was made at a meeting on May 5 attended by rink user groups, city staff and Councillor John Parker.
“It is a tremendous breakthrough,” said Parker, a day after the meeting. “It will really get the project in gear.”
The donation will be made in the coming weeks to the East York Foundation, which will in turn pass it along to the city. The funding, which will be used to pay for the project’s initial architectural and design work, could be as much as $1 million. The city is currently preparing a request for proposal to be submitted to an architecture firm.
“This is huge. It’s now gone beyond conceptual and we’re starting down the road,” said Paul Mercer, former chair of the rink’s management board and current chair of the expansion committee.
According to Mercer, the family who pledged the capital believe sport plays a key role in the health and well-being of young people.
While the start-up funding has gotten the ball rolling the project will likely cost 10 times more.
Parker successfully earmarked the project for consideration in the city’s 2011 parks and recreation budget, and said that the city will likely be able to offer $6-7 million toward the project, borrowed against the proposed new rink’s future revenue. But that leaves a large shortfall.
To help pay for the expansion the rink’s management board has hired a fundraising company to try and raise the funds needed within the community.
But the community’s planned involvement in the project won’t end with money. Parker said that community members, the rink’s current user groups including boys and girls hockey leagues, figure skating organizations as well as the nearby pool and curling club users will all take an active part in the design process.
“We’re not going to start with architects sitting down at a table and drawing things, we’re going to start with architects talking to people,” said Parker. “It’s a fabulous concept for moving ahead with a project that will affect a local community.”
But in Leaside community involvement isn’t anything new. The current Leaside Gardens rink as well as the pool were spearheaded and paid for by the local residents through Lions and Rotary clubs in decades past.
“We’re going back to the future,” said Parker.
One potential complication in having a locally funded local amenity, Parker said, is the question of ice time allocation. Is it locals pay, locals play?
Some residents want a guarantee, but the rink’s management board cannot give it to them as ice allocation is governed by a citywide policy that can include giving ice time to people from other communities. (Leaside’s competitive hockey teams currently play their games and conduct their practices at rinks outside of the community.)
As a former management board chair, Mercer has done his fair share of choosing who gets ice time.
He said that Leaside has always been in compliance with the city’s requirements for allocation equity and that although there cannot be a guarantee, generally most users are and will be from the community.
“The number one category is ‘Community Youth’ so you can extend that and say that yes, (the allocation policy) does favour locals,” he said. “The intention is not to supplant any of the current community user groups with people from elsewhere.”
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