The City of Hamilton’s website says renovations to the J.L. Grightmire Arena in Dundas will be done in time for a January 2019 reopening, but user groups say there is “no evidence” that will prove to be true.
SPORTS 06:04 PM by Scott Radley The Hamilton Spectator
The J.L. Grightmire Arena is Dundas is still under renovation, forcing hockey teams and figure skaters to find other ice. - Barry Gray , The Hamilton Spectator
First it was supposed to be ready for September. Then October. Then November. Now January, though some have been told to expect March. Which, if true, would be right at the end of the winter sports season, meaning it would be fully usable by next September.
If you're thinking, "Gee, that sounds frustrating," you're about one per cent of the way to understanding what user groups of the J.L. Grightmire Arena in Dundas are feeling today.
"The way it's unfolded has been disgraceful," says Dundas Real McCoys president Don Robertson.
Renovating the place by expanding dressing rooms, building a bigger lobby — including a second-floor room — and a variety of other renos at the 68-year-old Market Street arena was supposed to take about a year. Considering the actual rink and seating bowl weren't being removed but worked around — and considering that nearly nine decades ago, Maple Leaf Gardens was built from scratch in six months — this was a significant but not massive project.
But you know what they say about the best-laid plans. Extreme heat warnings, a custom HVAC unit that arrived late and some Ministry of Labour stop-work orders slowed things down. Which caused work to drift into a second hockey season which is where the real problems began.
The city is now checking in on progress nearly every day. Every couple days at most.
"The project itself is evolving daily," says Robyn Ellis, the city's manager of strategic planning, capital and compliance.
As recently as November, the city asked for and received an updated schedule from the contractor. Yet, just a few weeks later, she says things have already fallen behind that new timetable. Would it be fair to guess this isn't the first time this has happened?
"Correct," Ellis says.
To accommodate these ongoing problems, the Real McCoys, Dundas Blues and Dundas Minor Hockey Association have all been displaced at significant cost and inconvenience. The Dundas Figure Skating Club has had to cancel and shuffle programs. Public skating, shinny and other rentals have also been bounced.
"If the city didn't help us out with ice, we probably would've ended up folding," says Blues' director of hockey operations Steve Aglor.
Hyperbole? He says after being bounced from Olympic Arena in Dundas to Chedoke Arena's big ice surface to Chedoke's small surface and back to Olympic with game starts of 8:20 p.m. on Thursday nights, attendance for the Jr. C team has almost vanished.
In the past, revenue from tickets has been used to pay for team buses and to cover the cost of officials. Today, with little capacity for walk-up crowds, only the diehards still come. Many of those are seniors who bought season passes that work out to about $2 a game.
"We've had weeks we don't even bring in enough to pay for the referees," he says.
Robertson says having his senior team play out of Harry Howell Arena in Flamborough has cut attendance this year by close to 75 per cent. That's real money lost. Tens of thousands of dollars' worth that have to come out of his pocket.
Things have become so embarrassing on the crowd-size front — "embarrassing" is his word — that he's cancelled most of the franchise's in-game fundraising events so they don't look ridiculous and fail miserably. This ultimately hurts local groups and damages the Real McCoys' brand.
As for minor hockey players, former DMHA president Kristina Dodd says the endless renovation has been a massive frustration. Hundreds of house league players have been relocated to Olympic and Coronation Arenas for a second-straight season.
"It's our competitive teams that took the brunt of it," she says.
Dundas rep teams are now playing out of Eastwood, Beverly, Coronation and occasionally Olympic, often at inconvenient hours. The move to Olympic which is home to the local figure skating club has then forced it to dump some programs.
They all say they believe the place will be beautiful once it is done. It's just that getting to the finish line has become a hair-pulling experience. And when will that finish line appear?
The City of Hamilton's website says it will be reopening in January 2019. Does Dodd believe that?
"No," she says without hesitation.
She drives by the construction site often and says she rarely sees much action or many vehicles there. Twice she and the others were supposed to be taken through the unfinished arena on a tour. Both times that was cancelled. Makes her wonder what's going on.
Does Aglor believe that online finishing date in legit?
"No," he says. "We've already been told we won't be back in there this year."
In fact, Ellis — who repeatedly says how badly she feels for the users and the community who are being affected by all this — says it's unlikely anyone's going to be in there this season.
In the meantime, how about Robertson? Is he buying the January date? Or any date for that matter?
"I'm not buying anything anyone is telling us," he says. "Because there's no evidence it will be true."