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City gives the go-ahead to open most of its arenas for youth hockey season

More than 5,000 young hockey players will hit the ice in Sudbury this fall

It has been nearly six months since the city of Greater Sudbury declared a state of emergency, and despite a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Ontario and in Sudbury, the city is moving forward with opening more facilities.

Speaking at a city council meeting on Sept. 22, executive director of strategic initiatives, Ian Wood gave a brief COVID-19 update where he spoke of a pair of city services that have been or are set to return to near-normal operation.

The two services highlighted by Wood were libraries and arenas, with a trio of Sudbury libraries reopening on Sept. 21.

"Those are open during the week and the details have been promoted to the public, so that's a good step forward for us," said Wood. "We are utilizing the protocols that have been created by the province for libraries. They're not simple, they are labour intensive, but they do allow the public safely back into the branches to access library materials and computers."

Among the protocols are controls on the number of people allowed inside the branches, enhanced cleaning measures with each computer in the libraries being cleaned between each user. 

The six major branches (Main, Lively, Chelmsford, Valley East, South End, New Sudbury) are open to the public Monday to Friday; two hours/day for curbside pickup and three hours/day for in-Branch municipal and library services.

As of Sept. 21, the Capreol, Dowling and Garson Public Libraries/Citizen Service Centres are open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The neighbourhood libraries (Azilda, Coniston, Copper Cliff and Levack-Onaping) are tentatively scheduled for reopening after Thanksgiving as a result of the need to increase staffing to address COVID-19 protocols. Expanded hours and/or weekend service will also be reinstated after Thanksgiving if this can be resourced effectively.

In-person library programming remains cancelled and there is no public access to community meeting rooms within the libraries.

The city will also be opening the doors to the majority of its arenas for the fall hockey season, following a series of meetings between the city's leisure services department and arena user groups that wrapped up last week.

"In response, it looks like there's enough demand that the majority of arenas will be opened. Staff are working through the logistics on that and we don't have exact dates at the moment," said Wood. "That information will be coming to council in the next couple of days and will be released to the public in terms of exact dates and the nature of those reopenings."

Despite a high enough level of demand from user groups within the city, during the meeting, Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan noted that there are still factors to be weighed in terms of arena usage.

"It looks as if arenas are going to be opening and it sounds as if most of the associations are not going to allow tournaments. I know that Sudbury is quite a tournament city. I'm wondering if Mr. Pafford can tell us any impact on the usage from the lack of tournaments this year," said Kirwan.

"The other thing is we haven't heard that the high schools are going to be getting involved yet with their school sports, so what kind of impact do we have on the percentage of usage that we normally have on the arenas moving forward? It looks as if there's enough to open them, but what percentage are we looking at in terms of utilization?"

More detailed information on the city's arenas is expected to be brought forward in October, but early indications are that more than 5,000 youth hockey players will hit the ice in Sudbury's arenas this fall and winter.

"Following our ice allocation meeting last week we had a total of 5,200 youth participants," said Jeff Pafford, the city's director of leisure services. 

"For comparison, last year we had 5,780 youth participants among our ice allocation members, that represents about a 10-per-cent decrease. However, considering that a number of the hockey associations and leagues are going to be limited to three-on-three or four-on-four play, the actual number of hours required to host their activities is virtually on par with previous years."

As far as tournaments, the Ontario Hockey Federation (OHF) and Northern Ontario Hockey Association (NOHA) have both indicated that there will be no sanctioned tournaments or events for the upcoming hockey season.

"We anticipate that groups will continue with an enhanced league play to fill a bit of that void," said Pafford. "With respect to high school sports it's our understanding that the winter season sports will not commence. Council will be aware that through joint use agreement those hours were made available to our local school boards. We are seeing some of our other ice allocation members look at the time slots that were previously used by high school hockey and inquiring about those times."

The city's leisure department is also currently in the process of confirming ice demand from commercial adult users.

The Ontario Hockey League is set to return on Dec. 1, meaning the Sudbury Arena's primary tenant, the Sudbury Wolves, will be back on the ice soon enough for training camp. Kirwan questioned if there was any indication as to whether or not fans would be allowed to attend games this season.

"We have received the OHL's proposed return to play document and we understand that there are conversations happening with the province to advocate to allow increased attendance for those events," said Pafford

"As things currently stand, the indoor gathering limit of 100 would apply, but certainly the league is going through a number of considerations. They also have a number of teams that are outside of the province, so they're working through the implications of the league with the province right now and once we receive information, we'll continue to update council."

Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo brought forward a question that he said he has received numerous times from his constituents, and that is whether or not the city's arenas will be offering public skating or adult shinny.

"That was a key opportunity for some people to get out and active on the ice that maybe didn't want to register for hockey or ringette or figure skating," said Jakubo.

Pafford said that the city's early focus has been on establishing how many ice pads would be required for the season with ice allocation members, but recreational or casual ice users have not been forgotten.

"Our full intention is to have those recreation skating and hockey programs available for the public," said Pafford. "Some of the considerations we're working through now, and no different from Mr. Wood with the libraries.”

Those considerations include ensuring physical distancing on the ice and ensuring capacity limits in arenas are being maintained. 

“So that work continues behind the scenes and it's our full intention to have those programs available."