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Public meeting set to discuss decision to no longer put ice in Desboro arena

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Chatsworth Township is holding a public meeting July 28 on a council decision to no longer put ice into the Desboro Community Centre, after hearing concerns from local residents and sports groups.

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The meeting, set for 7 p.m. at the arena’s outdoor pavilion, also comes after an online petition was launched to urge council to reverse the controversial directive. It had been signed by more than 1,000 people by Thursday.

Chatsworth Mayor Scott Mackey said council’s decision was a financial one, as about $300,000 in repairs and equipment are needed before ice can go into the arena again, the facility requires about $2.6 million in upgrades over the next four years and the township is planning for a new community hub with ice surface.

But he said he’s going into the public meeting with an open mind.

“This is a big decision for our municipality,” he said Thursday in an interview.

“Certainly, the public deserves the right to have input and because of COVID when this decision was made, there hadn’t been the opportunity for a public meeting. There’s certainly members of the community that are interested in continuing to have ice and it’s only fair that they’re able to share those thoughts with council so council can make an informed decision based on the interests of the majority of people.”

Any councillor can present a notice of motion following the public meeting to reconsider the ice decision, he said.

The Township of Chatsworth Minor Hockey Association, which holds home games at the Desboro, Keady, Tara and Markdale arenas, is among the organizations calling for council to reverse course.

Organization representatives asked council in February to consider continuing to operate the Desboro arena as-is until the ice plant breaks beyond reasonable repair and/or the new community hub proposed for the village of Chatsworth is built and up and running.

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Thursday, association president Ejaye McComb said the organization is pleased to see the community rallying in support of the arena and welcomes council’s reconsideration of the decision to not put ice in the facility.

“The closure of the Desboro ice surface will have a noticeable impact on community recreation as a whole,” he said. “We appreciate the township’s commitment to accommodating minor hockey’s ice requirements in Keady, but other user groups such as broomball, skating and community recreation at large may be negatively affected, which is unfortunate. The Desboro ice surface is an important part of the community.”

He said the organization, which has about 260 players, is planning to have a full season of hockey regardless of the outcome.

Chatsworth went from having three indoor rinks to two after the township shuttered the 55-year-old arena in the village of Chatsworth in 2017 due to cost-prohibitive structural issues and deficiencies. The arena was demolished in the summer of 2019.

The township has been working on a plan to build a multi-use community hub with ice pad in its place, applying for federal-provincial funding for the project last year. The application was denied, but council passed a motion in September to reconfirm its full support of a fundraising committee’s efforts for the facility.

During budget deliberations in December, council decided to not put ice back into the Desboro arena after the 2020-21 winter sports season due to financial reasons.

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Mackey said Thursday the decision was made after council reviewed the township’s 10-year capital plan, which will require significant upgrades for the Desboro facility, including a new cement slab and coolant system. About $4.6 million in upgrades are needed at the Desboro and Keady arenas over the next four years, council heard.

It also received information that for a municipality Chatsworth’s size, its arenas should each be used about 50 hours a week, Mackey said. However, the Desboro and Keady arenas had been used about 32 hours weekly.

“And then with the new hub proposal, how long do you put money into an old arena, I guess is what it boiled down to,” Mackey said.

“I think the question coming up for the public meeting is the public is wondering if we can limp along with the Desboro arena – continuing to have ice in it without any additional investment until such time as we have a new facility.”

He said the township will have to replace the coolant room, at a cost of about $200,000, and buy a Zamboni, for about $75,000, and complete other, smaller upgrades before ice can go back into the arena.

“To limp along, if you want to put it that way, there’s likely an investment of about $300,000. And that’s not to say that something doesn’t fail,” he said.

“The coolant system and the lines under the cement pad are old, so you could get halfway through the season and have something major fail and then the users are kind of out on a limb. But, is it possible to limp along? Absolutely.”

Regardless of what council decides, Mackey said the Desboro arena can still be used for non-ice activities, such as for the fall fair, pickleball and lacrosse.

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