Lack of practice space challenging for Nanaimo sports teams

Nanaimo Acme Timbermen lacrosse player Jon Diplock takes a shot on goal during a team practice at the Lions
Nanaimo Acme Timbermen lacrosse player Jon Diplock takes a shot on goal during a team practice at the Lions' Sport Centre outdoor box on Wall Street last summer after the ice went back in the arena.
— image credit: File photo

Availability of dry-floor space is drying up in Nanaimo, and that's concerning to some sports teams.

The City of Nanaimo's parks and recreation department is being asked by user groups to reconsider a decision to go with two ice rinks and two dry floors at its arenas this spring and summer. In recent years, the city has gone with three dry floors and one ice surface.

Trying to squeeze so much lacrosse onto two floors in 2014 is creating enough potential problems that 60 advocates of the sport packed a parks and recreation commission meeting Wednesday at the city hall annex.

"There was an anticipation and an expectation of three dry floors … not only for this year but for every year," said Frank Dubenski, spokesman of the dry-floor users consortium.

Some Nanaimo District Lacrosse Association teams will receive fewer than one practice time per week, said the club's president, Brian Boas. Other lacrosse teams are being given later practice times. The senior B Timbermen, for example, have been allotted a 9:30 p.m.-11 p.m. slot, a hardship for a dozen out-of-town players commuting from as far away as Victoria.

Dubenski said the NDLA is the sixth-largest minor lacrosse association in B.C., but isn't being given any flexibility to grow.

"All that Nanaimo is doing is trying to keep the program running at the bare minimum," he said. "In comparison to the rest of the province, ask yourselves if we compete, and I don't think we do."

Roller derby groups are also constrained or shut out by the dry-floor allocation and have had to book arenas in Parksville and Duncan for practices, games and training camps.

"It's unfortunate that as a result of the allocation of the dry-arena space, roller derby in Nanaimo has not had the opportunity to grow as rapidly and consistently as other sports and has not had the opportunity to grow at the same rate as other municipalities," said Darlene Stevens, Harbour City Rollers player.

Richard Harding, the city's parks and rec director, said decisions regarding ice and dry-floor allocation were made in an effort to maximize the usage of the arenas.

"Even though there's some prime-time constraints for some groups, we can accommodate all the historical uses," Harding said. "With budgets where they are, it was a more effective way of utilizing the facilities and a chance of keeping them full."

Coun. Fred Pattje pointed out that the city is grappling with a projected property-tax increase that he said isn't sustainable.

"The motion that I'm going to make is going to try and deal with 2014 and find some sort of solution that is going to help all of you," he told the users. "But I really urge you to be aware of the financial constraints … It's not going to be easy and if it's going to cost extra money, it's going to be twice as hard."

Dry-floor users argued that they weren't offered the chance to pay for additional arena hours.

"Constraints and cutbacks are a way of life now. However, what I'm struggling with, is how is the cutback to giving more ice time reasonable here? That's not a cutback," said Darlene Brebber, a lacrosse director. "If you offer ice time to somebody, they're going to take it. You offer us more floor time, we're going to take it."

Dubenski said dry-floor users don't want to make the issue "a hockey versus a lacrosse proposition" and said it's broader than that.

"I'm suggesting that there is a demand in this community that's not being met."

Harding mentioned there are plans for a covered space in Harewood, and said some of the Beban Park planning includes options for a multipurpose dry floor.

The city's parks and rec committee will meet Wednesday (March 5) and decide on a recommendation that will then be brought back before the commission.

"We're going to have a lot of discussion amongst ourselves with staff and see if we can come to some solution that will hopefully make most of us happy…" said Coun. Ted Greves. "Maybe we shouldn't have torn down the Civic Arena."

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