With temperatures plummeting to the minus teens this week, it may seem curious that a city like Kelowna needs to artificially chill its outdoor ice rink.
Joe Creron suggested such a thing about 20 years ago when the design of Jim Stuart Park was first being discussed. He was head of the parks department back then and is deputy city manager now.
“The idea, at that time was two-fold,” Creron told iNFOnews.ca. “One was to generate some people downtown over the winter because, way back then, it wasn’t as vibrant as it is now. And, secondly, we were one of the only places that you couldn’t have an outdoor rink.”
Temperatures in most Okanagan cities and Kamloops are usually too warm to get much use unless it's artificially enhanced, which is where Kelowna has a unique advantage. The $5 million project included the novel idea of cooling glycol to -9 C using the nearby City Hall chiller then pumping it through pipes under Water Street to the ice surface.
The rink is now in its ninth winter (it opened Dec. 27, 2010) and is one of the few city-run outdoor rinks in the region.
Jim Stuart was mayor of Kelowna from 1986 to 1996 and an alderman for 13 years before that. The land was dedicated as a park bearing his name after a provincial government building was removed.
Creron made his suggestion in about 2000 but it took another decade before the rink opened.
In the summer, the chiller is used to cool City Hall but was adapted to switch direction and pump the glycol out to the rink in the winter.
A glass building intended as a place for people to lace up their skates in the winter and have programming in the summer never got built.
The rink has an operating cost of more than $50,000 a year. None of that cost is recovered through user fees since skating is free.
“It’s very popular,” Creron noted. “In fact, I went and skated on it myself just before Christmas and it was very busy. A lot of families just love it and have a great time.”
Kamloops city council approved a $3 million, NHL sized outdoor rink for Riverside Park in December 2018. That project is contingent on getting a federal/provincial grant, which has yet to be achieved. It’s expected to cost $120,000 a year to operate the rink.
The Jim Stuart Park rink is slightly smaller than an NHL ice surface at about 59 metres by 23 metres. NHL rinks are about 61 metres by 26 metres.
A proposal went to Penticton city council in December 2019 for a smaller (40 by 14 metres), $450,000 rink in Gyro Park. Its $40,000 annual operating costs could be recovered through user fees, proponents said at the time. Plans are to have it opened by next Christmas.
Information about other outdoor skating rinks in the Thompson and Okanagan regions can be read here.
- This story was corrected at 1:20 p.m., Jan. 14, 2019 to add in information about other outdoor rinks in the region.
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