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Valemount Junior Curlers 2014

By: Korie Marshall

The Board of Fraser-Fort George Regional District has agreed to look at the possibility of connecting the cooling plant at the skating rink to the ice surface at the Valemount Curling Club.

In September, members of the Curling Club met with staff members from the Regional District and the Village of Valemount to discuss options for upgrading the cooling plant. The Club, a volunteer-run non-profit association, owns the curling rink building which sits on Village property, adjacent to the Canoe Valley Rec Centre (arena). The Rec Centre is owned by the Regional District, and a new ice plant was recently installed. The Curling Club has been struggling in recent years with mounting costs for the building, including taxes, insurance and power bills, and has been looking for ways to manage the power bills.

The club was approved this year for funding from Columbia Basin Trust’s Community Initiatives and Affected Areas program to upgrade the lights on the rink surface to the same lighting system recently installed in the Canoe Valley Rec Centre. The upgrades were completed in September, in time for the Chamber of Commerce’s Fall Trade Show, and are expected to reduce the Club’s power bill, but the powering the cooling plant represents the highest cost for the Club.

Lyle Lewis, facilities manager for the Regional District, says the new cooling plant at CVRC is capable of cooling the ice surface at the curling club as well. But Terry McEachen, general manager of development services for the district, told the club members it is not as simple as connecting the buildings. The Regional District would have to set up a taxable service area which could collect taxes to pay for the service if required. McEachen says a maximum would be set, and only funds needed would be collected through property taxes, similar to the current services for the skating rink, hospital, or television services. That would require a public vote before being passed, but the first step would be a feasibility study to determine the potential costs and benefits of setting up the service.

Members of the Curling Club collected 131 signatures from area residents, supporting the feasibility study, and the request was considered at the Board’s Nov. 13 meeting. The Board approved having staff work with a local steering committee to evaluate the feasibility of establishing a curling rink surface.

In McBride, the curling rink is attached to the skating rink and both are owned by the Regional District, though many clubs across Canada are owned by the organizations, not municipal government. McEachen says the Regional District maintains the building and property and installs the ice at the beginning of the season, and McBride Curling Club rents the facility throughout the winter, maintaining the ice and running the club through volunteers.

The “new” Valemount Curling Club was built in the early 1990’s, moved from its original home under a quonset near the current Valemount Museum. Club membership in both Valemount and McBride has dropped drastically from “back in the day” when weekend bonspiels hosted 30 or more teams in the three-rink clubs. However interest in curling is on the rise again throughout Canada, and many people value the chance to get out and socialize in the winter, doing a very inexpensive sport.

Diana Smith, president of the Valemount Curling Club, is very excited about the potential of the building to be used outside of the curling season. It already houses the Valemount Food Bank, the Junior Rangers often use the basement, and the Chamber of Commerce’s trade show, hosted in September, highlighted how the rink can be used for other community functions, like craft fairs and weddings.

“On Halloween this year, the Lions Club used our kitchen for serving chili while the Junior Rangers and volunteers put on a Haunted House downstairs, before the Fire Department’s fireworks display next door,” says Smith. “That shows the potential of this area to be a community gathering place.”

It is not smooth sailing yet though. At another meeting with club members and Area H Director Ken Starchuck, McEachen told the club it will mean more meetings and discussions, building inspections and cost estimates, and convincing the public of the value of the service, before it could come to a vote. That means running the curling rink at least this winter and next on the old ice plant.

The current ice plant passed a safety inspection in September, and is small enough that provincial boiler and refrigeration safety regulations that would require certified personnel to run the plant do not apply. The Village of Valemount granted the club a 75 per cent exemption on property taxes for the 2015 year, along with two other properties owned by non-profit organizations, the Lions Club and the Valemount Legion.