OLDS — The biggest challenge town officials face when it comes to making recreation space available for residents are the shoulder seasons.
That’s because in spring, hockey and figure skating are winding down and dry surface sports like lacrosse are getting ready to start up again. In August, hockey is getting ready start up again as training camps begin.
There’s lots of competition for use of those spaces by those groups and many others.
One way to make more ice time and dry floor time available might be to work with other communities to utilize their facilities, councillors were told during a June 7 meeting.
Councillors discussed that issue after receiving a presentation from Olds resident and retired NHL player Jason Jaffray who has set up a business helping kids hone their skills in various sports.
He’s attracted kids from as far away as Red Deer, Rocky Mountain House – even Drumheller, Strathmore and Hanna. He estimated about 80 per cent of his signees are kids in Olds and area.
Jaffray told councillors that he’s having such a hard time obtaining prime time ice time and other training space for his business that he’s had to book it in facilities in other communities.
He said he’d love to book more ice time in Olds but currently can’t obtain it.
"I applied for 20, 30 hours in August and I was given zero hours in August, just because of the policies that we have in place,” he told councillors.
Later, Jaffray said he was actually offered one time slot for ice: 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. one week in August.
“In August I don’t think I would get a whole lot of interest in any families that were willing to wake up at 5:45 to get their kid on to the ice at 6 a.m.,” he said.
As a result, he has scrounged time for the summer as far away as Carstairs, Airdrie and Penhold.
Jaffray stressed he didn’t want to tread on the toes of organizations like the Olds Grizzlys Junior A hockey team or the Olds College Broncos female hockey team.
He understood their need for ice and – in the case of the Grizzlys at least – their need to make money via hockey schools in the summer.
But he was hopeful some way could be found to provide more time for organizations like his.
“If I get smaller amounts next year, I would be forced to have to move it out of town to a different facility and I don’t want to do that,” Jaffray said.
“My whole purpose of doing what I’m doing here in Olds is to provide our local athletes, our local kids, to be able to not have to travel into the city to do things like spring hockey and top-end training.”
"We're all working for the same goal, right? We’re all trying to provide youth development in town."
Coun. Mary Jane Harper said “it’s unfortunate we don’t have enough ice surfaces for all those times that people want them.”
Town councillors are expected to further discuss what to do about this problem, possibly during their next policies and priorities meeting in early July. It was suggested that use of green spaces could be included as part of that discussion.
Chief administrative officer Michael Merritt and acting director of operations Doug Wagstaff both confirmed that Olds town staff have had discussions with representatives of other communities in Mountain View County about sharing use of recreational facilities as a way to alleviate that bottleneck.
Wagstaff said primary user groups like figure skating clubs, Olds Minor Hockey, the Olds Grizzlys and the Olds College Broncos work out the sharing of ice time from September to April in a very cooperative way.
But working out the sharing of surfaces in spring and August has been “problematic,” he said.
However, Wagstaff said next spring, local recreational groups will have to find alternative space elsewhere because ice in the Sportsplex will be set aside for the Humpty’s Champion’s Cup curling tournament, scheduled for May 4-8 at the Sportsplex.
That tournament was postponed last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Merritt and Wagstaff both noted that representatives of Olds and other communities in Mountain View County are currently working on a recreation master plan for the entire area, and that could include the possible sharing of recreational facilities.
However, Merritt said a report on those discussions is not expected until after this October’s municipal election is over.
“It’s very difficult to coordinate that, but it’s certainly not something that we have been foreign to,” Merritt said, adding town officials have even held discussions about facility use with Bowden town officials.
Merritt said even Torrington has been discussed as a place where recreational facilities could be shared “because it’s within a certain drive to deal with.”
Jaffray has held preliminary talks with representatives of other communities about obtaining more ice time. But he said one problem with looking at reserving ice in those places is that they require a lot of ice time to be booked in order to make that profitable for them, as Olds does.