Rink referendum revisited
Nearly seven years after the project was stalled due to a student referendum, a campus rink at the University of Regina remains high on the list of administrative priorities.
“It’s one of those projects everybody agrees would be a great idea and we’d really like to do it,” said Craig Chamberlin, dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies.
“But you know, when they decide on the capital priorities, we fall behind a little bit right now with the College Avenue campus and the new residences being seen as higher priorities, but it’s definitely on the list. It hasn’t dropped off the radar at all.”
In 2006, students voted against a $15-per-semester fee increase to help fund the project, with 63.4 per cent of students saying no to the proposed increase.
The project has been in the works for more than a decade now, with plans drawn up and informal commitments to move forward in place, but nothing being set in stone.
“When I first came here – and I’ve been here 11 years now – we were very close at that point in time,” Chamberlin said. “We did a fair amount of planning using the company that built the CKHS, and so it’s all sitting there ready to go … we’ve kept those plans, and the concept has not really changed – a two-sheet rink with about 1,500 seats for spectators, [and] multiple changing rooms and facilities.”
The proposed designs, to be built on “Field 5,” between the Centre for Kinesiology Health and Sport and the tennis courts, would also include a student lounge or a “restaurant/bar like facility in between the two sheets of ice,” Chamberlin said.
But, of course, the project cannot move forward without the proper funding in place, or as Chamberlin puts it, half-jokingly, “somebody to come along with 25 to 30 million dollars.”
“I mean, really that is it,” he said. “There’s nobody around here saying absolutely you can’t move forward with it, but you know, we can’t move forward until we have the money to do it.”
And since the students voted against an increase in student fees to help fund the project, the administration has been left to explore other avenues, with little success to this point.
“The referendum came and went and the students were clear that they didn’t want a fee put on, so after that referendum I spent a bit of time checking into alternative ways of funding, and haven’t come up with anything useful at this time,” Chamberlin said. “If the students came to me and said, ‘you know what, we’d love to support this’ and such, I’d be thrilled to hear that, but we take the results of the referendum seriously, and said OK, we’ve got to look at alternatives, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
According to Nathan Sgrazzutti, president of the University of Regina Students’ Union, there has always been a bit of conversation among URSU executives about the possibility of pursuing an on-campus rink, and if there was enough student support for the project, a second referendum isn’t out of the picture.
“We can technically referendum for anything,” Sgrazzutti said. “The decision then lies in the students’ hands as it is up to them if the project is to be initiated. If there is student support, I will be obligated to offer up the request for financial aid to the project.”
“It’s one of those projects everybody agrees would be a great idea and we’d really like to do it.” – Craig Chamberlin
But in today’s stringent financial climate, Sgrazzutti realizes that asking cash-strapped students to pay for capital projects may not be the fairest of propositions.
“Students have, and always will have, tight budgets,” he said. “Asking constantly for more money from them does not bode well, especially during the university-wide ‘belt-tightening’ that is going on.”
Currently, the U of R rents space at the Co-operators Centre, including changing rooms, offices for the coaches and even a weight room.
While Chamberlin said the partnership between the university and the Co-op has been great to this point, the lack of an on-campus facility presents a major drawback for Cougars hockey.
“It still disadvantages the student athletes having to be off-campus, not being able to connect in with the things we do here in terms of training and such, and it keeps the coaches away from campus a fair amount as well,” he said. “[The Co-op Centre] has been very good to us in terms of providing a schedule that we could live with, but it would be really nice to be able to sort of map out your own practice times and game schedule… without that control, there’s always a worry.”
Both women’s hockey coach Sarah Hodges and men’s coach Todd Johnson agreed that it would be beneficial for their teams to have an on-campus facility.
“Oh absolutely,” Johnson said, noting that one of the biggest benefits may be an increase in fan support. “You have the dorms that are right there, the majority of student housing is all around the university, and you know, if it’s walkable to go to a hockey game instead of driving or taking any kind of transit, it’s just easier, and I think the support would be higher.”
It would also help in ensuring his players make it to practice on time, Johnson said.
“Practice always is between four and six, and some guys have class until four o’clock, so obviously they show up late,” he said. “As a coach, sometimes it’s frustrating that players are late because of that, but those are things we can’t control, and obviously if a rink was on campus that would be something that we wouldn’t have to deal with.”
Both coaches also noted that having an on-campus facility might help attract new recruits to the school’s hockey programs, both of which seem to be making strides towards improvement.
But in the end it all comes down to the financials, to which Chamberlin is certain the University won’t be able to do on its own.
“My guess, it would be a partnership kind of approach to it,” he said. “Perhaps a public/private type partnership or something like that, or the city and ourselves and the provincial government moving forward. Something like that would really make this go.”
While it’s been nothing but informal talks and hopeful optimism to this point, Chamberlin is confident that the project could break ground within the next five years.
“Right now, the priority really is the College Avenue campus and the new residence, which is very important to this university, and very important to the students as well,” he said.
“I hope the rink is not far behind those projects, and one that we can move forward on fairly quickly.”
Photo courtesy of www.oswego.edu