Debate on skating oval continues

Spring is officially here and the Halifax skating oval has been all but packed in, but debate continues about whether to make the oval permanent or return the space to its former state.

One Halifax group – the Friends of the Common – is vehemently opposed to making the oval permanent.

By Zane Woodford

What's left of Halifax's 2011 Canada Games skating oval after the ice has thawed, and the trailers have been towed (Zane Woodford photo).

Spring is officially here and the Halifax skating oval is all but packed up, but the debate continues about whether to make the oval permanent or return the space to its former state.

One Halifax group – the Friends of the Common – is vehemently opposed to making the oval permanent.

“In its essence, the common is a public park. (The skating oval) would completely undermine this,” said Beverly Miller, the group’s co-chair.

The Friends of the Common group has been fighting for years – against the city and concert promoters – to keep the common in the hands of the public.

It says the oval is a misuse of the space, which Miller says has to be one “that can be used 12 months of the year.”

But Jeff White, organizer of the Save the 2011 Canada Games Skating Oval campaign and petition, has several ideas for year-round use of the space.

“It could be turned into a roller-skating oval or a running track, and we could put basketball courts or more skateboarding facilities in the centre,” White said.

Even if it could be put to use year round, Miller is worried about the cost of the oval.

“The cost is estimated at between $1.25 and $1.75 million, and it can only be used for 90 days at the most,” she said. “If we take the average of these two numbers, that’s about $20,000 a day. That’s just too much money.”

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White speculated that some sort of partnership between business interests and the government would be the best cost solution, and his group has already solicited donations from several businesses.

“We’ve raised a fair amount of money, and we have offers pouring in from different corporate sponsors,” he said. “Some, like Molson, want naming rights, and others just want to see it happen.”

Miller and the Friends of the Common are against any corporate interest in the oval, and in the common in general.

“There is an ethical question in turning it over to commercial interests,” said Miller. “They would want advertising, and of course vendors would come in and tear up the ground. We don’t want to see this public space commercialized.”

While he sees corporate interests as the solution to the high cost of the oval, White agrees that advertising would tarnish the look of the common.

“I think too much corporate advertising would just be tacky; we don’t want it to look like a hockey rink,” he said. “We think that a tasteful sign at the entrance showing who made it happen would be best.”

Most important to White and his group though is that the skating oval gets people out exercising, and he says it has had a great effect on Halifax.

“The sense of community that comes from (the oval) is worth much more than the price,” he said.

Miller agrees that Halifax needs an outdoor skating facility, but the common, she said, is an “inappropriate location.”

With more than 9,000 signatures on his petition at the time he presented it to council, White has a lot of support in the community, but it has yet to be decided whether the oval will be made permanent.

With the tumultuous happenings in city hall lately – namely the concert funding scandal – the oval may not be top of the agenda, but both Miller’s and White’s groups will continue to make their voices heard.