Having been out three times in the past six days skating on the long-track oval on the Halifax Commons, I feel I should weigh in with my support for those trying to make the skating oval a semi-permanent feature of the Commons.
Anyone walking by the Commons over the past ten days or so will surely have seen the hundreds (thousands?) of people, young and old, skating, talking, laughing on or walking to or from the Commons with skates slung over their shoulder. Not only has the oval made this most Canadian of things possible, it has created a focus for community spirit and fun that I haven’t seen in some time in our lovely coast town.
The oval has attracted skaters of every level to come out and have fun together. I’ve seen some pretty talented figure skaters spinning off to the side, speed skaters with their pointy-blades warming up, and obvious first-timers, old and young alike, wearing rented skates and supported by friends, relatives, or those little red trainers that are conveniently stacked by the entrances for smaller rookies. It has been a while since I’ve seen that many people out just having fun.
As a bit of a fitness buff, I am in support of any event, sport, or facility that gets Canadians off the couch and moving about. I haven’t the time to go into all of the economic and cost benefits of having a healthy population, but suffice it to say, I believe that building free, publicly-accessible fitness facilities is a good long-term economic policy that will pay for itself in the near-term. There is certainly more to be done – bicycle lanes, running paths, etc., but this is an excellent start.
For those that were around here during the debate on whether or not Halifax, the province, and the feds should pony up two billion taxpayer dollars to host the Commonwealth Games, this is exactly the kind of spin-off facility that we were promised at a fraction of the cost.
Maintaining the oval is more than just laying the chillers out and paying for the electricity and water, however. Quite a lot of work was done through the fall to prepare the north end of the Common. As anyone who has played ball here or attended one of the open-air concerts will attest to, there is a drainage issue at this end of the Common, so grading was necessary. With all the work done to improve the ground immediately under the oval, the question becomes what to do with it in the summer when no skating is possible (the chillers can only maintain ice up to 10C).
Up to now, most of the Commons is used for baseball and softball in the summertime, and to be perfectly honest I don’t really know if these fields are used to capacity or if they are over-booked. Making the oval a permanent feature might mean the loss of at least one and possible two ball fields in the summer months. Ballplayers and Commons traditionalists (who argue that any change is in and of itself an evil) and money-losing concert promoters will recoil at the loss of space, but what about putting in a rubberized outdoor track? There are only a handful of decent tracks in the city – SMU, Beazley, etc., so I’m sure that such a thing would be well used. There are running clubs that gather at a couple of sport shops within a kilometre or two of the Commons that I know would head there to run intervals and sprints. This would be great for their business in the summertime (the running clubs are free, but the shoes ain’t) and for skate sellers and sharpeners in the winter.
The plans right now are to distribute the chillers to communities around the province. I think this a good idea, but I’d like to see the city opt to buy some new chillers and leave the oval in place on the Common. Individual chiller units will be fine for smaller facilities, but what makes this surface special is its size and central location. It’s big enough to serve multiple purposes for competition, training, and recreation, and it makes the Common an area to visit in the winter. This is a great thing for city spirit and great for local businesses. Yes, it will cost some tax-payer dollars, but at least we get to have fun with the result, and doesn’t that mean anything?
For those that feel as I do about the oval, there is a petition that you can sign to let the city council know that we are here. Go here and sign up – with any luck we can keep this thing going.
Edit: Just noticed Tim Bousquet’s article at TheCoast on the same topic. It looks like the costs are actually lower than originally budgeted and popularity much higher. It’s a win-win.