The city plans to reopen Valleyview Arena and Westsyde Pool and Fitness Centre, both of which closed earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Council has voted unanimously to expand reopening of its recreational facilities, adding to a growing list of city recreational facilities to welcome the public.
Valleyview Arena will reopen on Sept. 14, while Westsyde Pool and Fitness Centre will open its doors in early September, once the outdoor Brock Pool closes for the season,
City of Kamloops recreation supervisor Linda Stride told council on Tuesday the city is looking to open another ice rink this fall, due to demand. Following a city-wide recreational facility shutdown in mid-March, just one arena has so far reopened once B.C.’s economic restart plan was initiated — two ice sheets at the McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre, which opened in late June and early July.
A report to council notes the two sheets — NHL- and Olympic-sized rinks — are currently operating at 95 per cent capacity, with the majority of users being youth camps and clinics. The province recently announced it is expanding its return to sport guidelines, moving into phase three and allowing additional training opportunities, modified matches and league play within a set number of sport cohorts.
Coun. Arjun Singh said skating groups and parents with kids in skating programs have been emailing the city, requesting additional arenas to open, as well as flexibility around fees.
“The question I asked staff was whether opening up Valleyview would meet the need,” Singh told KTW. “My sense is it will right now meet what they’re looking for. The idea is being flexible. If more demand is there, then what else we can kind of open?”
Part of the issue has been based on changes made to reopen arenas — indoor city facilities — safely, in keeping with COVID-19 protocols. Stride explained only 20 people are currently allowed on the ice at one time, including coaches, players and staff, and 30-minute gaps have been put in place between groups.
Kamloops Long Blades head coach Sandi Vyse said after cancelling summer ice times, due to uncertainty amid the pandemic, the Long Blades returned to the Olympic-sized ice sheet at the McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre for the first time on Tuesday night.
“We just had a few older skaters and some of our more experienced parents, just to go through the protocol to make sure that we’re thinking of everything,” Vyse told KTW. “We have the challenge of putting our mats up and down, so we have to think about who is touching the mats and those types of things.”
Vyse said the Long Blades have not had difficulty thus far with ice times, as they have longstanding recurring times blocked off with the city. Vyse said with the Valleyview and Brocklehurst arenas closed, groups that had ice times in those facilities would have been the ones left scrambling.
“If you don’t say anything different, you’re just granted the same ice time year after year,” Vyse explained. “We’ve been here since 1992, so we just have always had that same ice time. The ones that would be the most stressed would be the ones who had ice times in the other arenas that aren’t opening. They’ll be scrambling to see where the city can fit them in in the other facilities around the established groups who already have ice times.”
The Valleyview Skating Club, the Kamloops Long Blades and the Kamloops Skating Club had all suspended operations at the onset of the pandemic. The Valleyview Skating Club operates out of Valleyview Arena. KTW reached out to the other clubs for comment and is awaiting responses.
The Westsyde Pool and Fitness Centre will be open from September to December, while the Canada Games Aquatic Centre remains under repair. Stride said the city wants to ensure one pool is open while the Canada Games Pool is under construction. That facility is expected to reopen in early January.
Westsyde is set to open on Sept. 8 for swim clubs, with the general public admitted to the gym under limited hours. On Sept. 21, hours for the facility will be extended to allow for public swims and longer gym hours. The hot tub, sauna and steam room will remain closed. Once the Canada Games Aquatic Centre reopens in January, city staff recommend shifting all swimming programs there and closing the Westsyde Pool and Fitness Centre until at least fall 2021.
Mayor Ken Christian said COVID-19 poses challenges, specifically with arena usage.
“They’re saying you can’t have games, that perhaps maybe three-on-three hockey would be something that would be suitable,” Christian said. “If you think about the number of people who play hockey in this town and the number of three-on-three games you’d have to have, we would have to have ice sheets from here to Heffley Creek, so we can’t do that as a city.”
There has been no word on the city regarding offering flexibility on fees to user groups.
Singh said as council moves ahead with talks about service cuts to keep taxes low, the city faces a “conundrum,” with recreation key to the well-being of residents.
“We’ve got to figure out who needs it more than other folks,” Singh said. “Then it becomes a question of how the community kind of sees that, too. I think it’s a real conversation about community needs at a community-wide level. If people are looking at it more from a personal perspective, that might be a little more challenging.”
Recreational facilities that have reopened
• tennis and pickleball courts;
• limited number of playing fields and ball diamonds;
• nature parks
• Tournament Capital Centre
• McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre;
• Brocklehurst Pool;
• Prince Charles Park wading pool and water spray parks;
• Overlander Park beach volleyball courts;
• McArthur Island Disc Golf Course and mini-golf course.
Winter is coming
As the seasons change, more people will be turning indoors for recreational opportunities. Indoor spaces are considered more high-risk, in terms of passing on the novel coronavirus to others. Singh said he is looking to the community to ensure indoor recreational facilities remain open.
“We have to still keep following the regulations, guidance from the medical health office,” he said. “If we start getting cases in a big cluster in Kamloops, everything will shut down again. We have to be responsible as a community. Social distance, mask up when you’re indoors, wash your hands and all that important stuff to consider.”