City skate lending program is not a priority, city staff says

8:02 p.m. July 12, 2018. A sign outside the Dufferin Grove Park ice rink.
8:02 p.m. July 12, 2018. A sign outside the Dufferin Grove Park ice rink.

July 13, 2018

By Arianne Robinson

While the cold days of winter may seem far away, the problem of city-organized skate lending was before a council committee this week –– and it’s one that doesn’t have an easy solution.

Members of the Community Development and Recreation Committee considered the feasibility of expanding skate lending at city-operated rinks on Wednesday, but were told by the city’s Parks staff that the development of the program is not a priority.

Currently, there are 100 skates that rotate to various rinks as part of a mobile program.

At the moment, the city has no way of accepting more skates by donation, despite the expressed need for the equipment from one Regent Park mother who came to city hall this week.

Regent Park activist Hani Afrah came to city hall to depute about the issue, advocating for the availability of  free or rental skates in her neighbourhood.

“We have skating, we have people that supervise it, but we don’t have [skates], and (for) some of the community, that’s the one barrier, because [skates] are very expensive and they can’t buy it. So if, at a lower price, the city rented [the skates], the community would rent and skate there.”

Councillor Michael Ford asked if any opportunities that did come to the city could be directed at neighbourhood improvement areas.

The answer from Janie Romoff, general manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation, was that charging rental fees in such areas would be contrary to council policy.

“In most of those areas, all of our programs are free, so it would be contrary to council policy to have free skating lessons while then charging skate rental fees for the skates themselves,” Romoff said.

The city does offer skate rentals at Nathan Phillips Square and Dufferin Grove Park. At the west-end park, the funding model is more of a pay-what-you-can model, which ends up costing the city approximately $7,000 – 8,000 a season in subsidies for the staff, infrastructure and skate sharpening.

Expanding rental service to the city’s 50-some outdoor rinks would come with “a fairly expensive price tag,” Romoff said.

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam also asked about expansion.

“A hundred pairs of skates rotating around different rinks doesn’t seem like a lot,” Wong-Tam said. “[We don’t have an] understanding of what sizes, age of children and youth, whether they fit girls and boys, are they getting equal time on the ice. Can you tell me, why we are not investing more in a program that’s more sustainable, that has far more city supports around it? We have three million people in this city.”

“It isn’t a program we’ve ever been funded for … given the pressures we’re operating under from an operating budget perspective, I’m not sure this is one that would be our first priority,” Romoff told the committee. “I think we do our best to try and connect families with agencies and supports that might be able to provide skates if there’s an interest in it.”

The item will go to city council this month, without recommendations from the committee.

8:03 p.m., July 12, 2018. A sign outside the rink, during the summer season, at Dufferin Grove Park.
8:03 p.m., July 12, 2018. A sign outside the rink, during the summer season, at Dufferin Grove Park.