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Oval woes

The Oval looks better than last year, but there is room for improvement. Photo by Angela Gzowski

Two years ago I sat next to a few friends the week before the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. We watched news reports highlighting the ongoing hill maintenance, wondering why they chose to have the winter games in a city known for its notoriously warm and rainy climate. We watched as reporters spoke in fear of the hills not having enough snow and the possibility of slush on the slopes, causing inaccurate times in races and unfavorable conditions for landing aerials on the hills.

“Who would spend all that money to have winter sports in a place that is entirely unsuitable for any winter sports?” we wondered.

Well, apparently the people of Halifax. In late 2010 the city of Halifax began construction of the Halifax Oval, a large speed skating track located in the Halifax Commons. Originally chosen as a temporary location for the skating track, the city of Halifax voted in favour of the Oval and chose to make it a permanent fixture in the city.

But on March 9 of this year, the HRM announced that the newly named Emera Oval would be closed for the rest of the year due to “weather fluctuations” that made it impossible to “sustain good ice for skating.” It had only been open since Dec. 23.

Now, I can understand the reason for wanting an outdoor rink in Canada. Canadians love the winter, and we like ice-skating. But usually that means ice hockey, not speed skating in one of the wettest cities in Canada. So I find it a little hard to stomach that a chunk of our city dollars goes toward a project a large portion of the population has apparently yet to use and is only open a few months of the year.

When the Oval began production for the 2011 Canada Winter Games, the whole city seemed to be excited. In a 2010 article in The Coast, it was reported that the cost of the Oval would be under the original $1.2 million dollar budget, equaling out to less than $1 per visit a year.

A few months later, the HRM was telling an entirely different story. The Oval was never meant to be a permanent thing; it became one by the urging of citizens towards city council. On Feb. 24, 2011, The Coast reported that to keep the Oval running for another season would cost $1.25 million – $1.75 million.

By March 30, 2011, The Coast reported that the entire cost for the Oval in 2011 would be $3.75 million, with costs being around $1.4 million in 2012 to transfer the Oval from a temporary rink to a permanent one.

In December 2011, local journalist John Wesley Chisholm broke the finances down even further. On his Tumblr account, Chisholm stated that with roughly 44.5 days of skating a year on the Oval—with 100,000 skaters hitting the Oval in 2011 (at about 2,247 skaters on the Oval per day)–the actual cost equaled $15 per skater per usage, as opposed to the previously estimated less than $1 a visit.

That all being said, the city of Halifax is doing its part to get some of us curmudgeons on board with the Oval. The city is currently hosting an online survey to gain information about the Oval’s current use and asks for ways to improve it. Citizens are able to vote on a variety of possible summer uses for the Oval, including road hockey, bicycling, ultimate Frisbee and inline skating. They also have a section where you can vote on architectural styles for the permanent facilities that will occupy the space around the Oval, which will be a welcome change from the white trailers that currently rest on the Commons.

These are all steps in the right direction and I urge the citizens of Halifax to vote and share their comments on how to improve the Oval as it progresses toward a permanent structure.

But that being said, it’s still slightly alarming to see the amount of city money already spent on a project that still has a ways to go before it becomes a permanent fixture.

Hopefully by this time next year we’ll all be gearing up for some spring and summer fun on the Emera Oval, as opposed to waiting another nine months to get a few skates in.

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