Resort Municipality of Whistler looking to install winter ice surface 

Request for proposals issued for ice under plaza Pavilion and on Great Lawn

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Don't lace your ice skates just yet Whistler; but it might be time to get them sharpened.

There could be skating under the Olympic Pavilion in the village as early as this winter if all goes according to the municipality's plans.

The municipality has issued a Request For Proposals for a "temporary recreational ice amenity" to run for three months at Whistler Olympic Plaza, and is looking to test the feasibility and operational costs of an ice surface. The project is still in the early exploratory phases.

"I think it's absolutely wonderful," said Councillor Tom Thomson, who months ago asked staff, with council's backing, to investigate the possibility of a temporary ice surface.

"I think we have the beginning of something great."

Long envisioned as a potential amenity in the village, the community's appetite for an ice rink was whetted in the run up to the 2010 Games. The plaza site was originally slated for an indoor ice rink that would host the Paralympic sledge hockey competition. That development proved too expensive but the concept of village skating prevailed.

Thomson said the money to pay for it would come from Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding - the $7.5 million granted annually to Whistler by the province. The province, however, has final say on how those funds are spent and this project isn't part of the work plan at the moment.

A large chunk of RMI funding ($2.9 million) was used to showcase the new Pavilion and Whistler Olympic Plaza to the world this summer through free, big-name concerts.

"The attempt is to leverage the RMI money, at least in my view, for a wintertime tourist and community activity," said Thomson.

"I think it would be a great way in the wintertime to keep that area alive."

Marty Taylor, general manager at The BrewHouse Pub next to the Pavilion, couldn't agree more.

"We would be thrilled (with an ice sheet)," said Taylor. "I think anybody in the village would be thrilled.

"Who wouldn't want to see an ice rink?"

The summer concert nights were great for his business and the plaza is turning into a real showcase venue for the resort, he said.

But, like any capital project, the issue of an ice surface will not only depend on how conducive ice is to that spot but also how much it costs.

Those details are not yet clear.

According to the municipality, once the project costs for the rental and installation of a glycol-based refrigeration system under the roof and partially on the Great Lawn area has been established, RMOW will then assess funding opportunities and begin talking to the province for approval on using RMI funds for an ice surface.

"The province must approve each project expenditure associated with the RMI funds and this expenditure is not in our current RMI plan," said a municipal spokesperson via email.

Thomson is keeping his fingers crossed the project will get the go-ahead.

"Every major host destination winter resort has an ice rink attached to it," he said.

"Even some places that don't have snow have ice rinks attached to their vacation areas. I think this is a natural for Whistler."

The RFP on the municipality's website states: "The ice under the roof is envisioned as a more square or rectangular form with rounded corners, where as the ice track on the lawn is envisioned as a curvier "path" with several slightly wider places for users to pause."

The path concept was tried with great success in Toronto last winter with a 250-metre ice surface winding between trees and under lights at Samuel Smith Park.

The municipality is looking for proposals from qualified refrigeration providers to supply and install the temporary refrigeration equipment.

"While not part of this test project, should the test project prove successful and well received, the RMOW may choose to purchase and possibly expand an ice system, requiring a revised system design for future years," according to the RFP.

"This project is subject to budget availability and municipal council approval."

The RFP was posted on Oct. 18 and closes this week on Nov. 2. Staff will evaluate submissions in respect to cost and timing of the installation and develop operational costs for the season.

There are two different timing scenarios in the RFP - one would see the ice operational by Dec. 19, days before the busy Christmas season in the resort. The second scenario would see the surface operational by Jan. 21.

The operation is set for a three-month period until roughly Apr. 2.

The RMOW intends to award the contract to the preferred proponent by Nov. 17.

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