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By Chris Marchand
Freshly-installed city councillors had their principles put to the test just minutes into their first open session when a local debate over a minor sports team’s claim to a storage room at the arena boiled over from social media to council chambers, Monday night.
A gallery of 16 people, representing various parties involved in the debacle, lined the gallery, but were unable to address council directly as the issue arose too swiftly to make it onto the evening agenda in an official delegation. The issue was addressed, however, in a report from City CAO André Larabie whose operational decision to re-designate a second floor room at the Dryden Memorial Arena has been met with vehement opposition from Dryden Minor Softball (DMS) who have traditionally occupied the space.
DMS’ Darcy Spalding took to social media this past week claiming the group had been evicted from their second-floor storage space at the arena, which they, like Dryden Minor Hockey Association and The Dryden Skating Club have occupied since the user groups partially-funded second floor renovations with major fundraising campaigns in years past.
City CAO André Larabie says the city was acting on a proposal from Dr. Bruce Cook who offered to provide a surplus examination table in the hopes of establishing a medical treatment room at the arena for the use of all groups. In search of a dedicated space for the apparatus, the DMS room was identified and Larabie says Spalding was contacted by the city’s Manager of Community and Development Services Bill Cunningham to inquire about the possibility of them moving to a new space in the Parks building on Duke St.
That’s where Larabie says the situation was escalated somewhat by forces beyond the city’s control.
“Unfortunately a member of the Ice Dogs organization took their (Dryden Minor Softball) sign down by mistake and put their own sign on that door. I met with the general manager Mr. (Brian) Bates and Mr. Cunningham to explain that this was not the way it was done, that the room had not been granted to any group in particular and it was not to be an extension of the Ice Dogs area upstairs.”
Meanwhile, Spalding says his group discussed the proposal from the city and opted to reject it. On Dec. 3, Spalding says Dryden Minor Softball received a letter informing them they had until Dec. 15 to move their stored items to the new location at the Parks building.
Reaction among councillors was a mixed bag, some having entered the meeting with their ears already warmed by constituents on the matter.
Councillor Mary Trist posed the question that a medical room, if indeed for the use of all groups, made much more sense on the ground floor of the building, perhaps in the current location of the referee’s room – the traditional site for rinkside first aid.
“I understand that you feel that medical room would be for all, would it actually be accessed and used by children and other organizations? I highly doubt it,” said Trist. “I believe the judgment most times is that when something happens to a child on the ice, if it’s serious enough they’re heading to the hospital.”
Instead Trist suggested a more pressing priority for the Arena might be dedicated or secure changerooms for female players.
Councillor Ken Moss says the timing of this affair is unfortunate.
“What bothers me is that we’re sitting here tonight in a city that’s looking for a police chief, whose city manager is leaving in three weeks trying to tie up loose ends and he’s spent two days last week dealing with this issue.”
Councillor Martin MacKinnon says that while the issue would seem trivial, the city would disregard the matter at its own peril, putting its relationship with volunteers at risk.
“We can not afford to lose our volunteer base in this community over something so frivolous as not being able to talk to one another,” said MacKinnon. “It’s time we had a face-to-face with all the user groups in this city and say to them, ‘tell us your issues’. Let’s get everybody in a room and do it once and for all.”
The issue is expected to re-emerge for discussion at next week’s regular meeting of council, Dec. 15.