Except for some signage in and on the building, there is little physical evidence that the O’Leary Community Sports Centre is the winning community from the 2017 Kraft Hockeyville national competition.
The cash prize that accompanies the Hockeyville Cup and the title remains unspent.
“We could’ve taken the $100,000, paved the parking lot, patched the roof and been done with it,” acknowledges Wade Sweet, president of the arena’s board of directors. He said the board and the arena’s renovations committee both have bigger plans for the facility.
“We really want to leverage this money as much as we can to leave a lasting legacy for the community,” he said.
Dean Getson, who was a member of the so-called Fab Five committee that launched the community’s winning Hockeyville campaign a year and a half ago, is chairing the renovations committee.
“Other winning communities, the norm was three, four years after before they spent their money,” he pointed out. He’s fine with leaving it until next summer, or even the summer of 2020, to make the planned changes, just to make sure it’s done right and the arena is able to tap into federal and provincial programs to help make it happen.
It will be in the lobby area that facility users will notice major change. The entrance will be opened up, the washrooms dramatically expanded and the canteen reconfigured to include seating and a glassed-in wall to provide heated viewing of the ice surface.
Chris Hepworth to help guide facility forward
The sports centre recently hired a new manager, Chris Hepworth. The board of directors is hoping to rely on his experience managing large venues in Ontario to not only help plan the renovations but to turn the facility into a four-season operation. The arena is a busy place during hockey and figure skating season but, from April until October little activity happens there.
“We want him to bring in new events, new ideas,” said sports centre board member Stacy Rix; “bring his experience to us. We want things to change for the better, and I think he brings that.”
Hepworth said he is excited to take on the challenge.
“For me, it’s the community, seeing how the community came together to vote for their small rink for Hockeyville is amazing.” Although he voted for O’Leary in the Hockeyville campaign at his in-laws’ request, Hepworth admits he knew little else about the community prior to moving to West Prince from Ontario in June.
“He’s bringing a lot of ideas to the table as far as improvements to make the facility run more efficiently,” Sweet said of Hepworth’s contributions.
“It’s probably a good thing that we have a year to prepare for the renovations, because it gives him a chance to get up to speed.”
Hepworth, who will be putting a particular focus on bringing new activities and attractions to the facility, said he supports the board’s position of taking its time to do it right. “If we can breathe some new life into our facility and update it and bring it into the 21st century, that would be amazing.”
Getson said the facility has served O’Leary and area well but is in need of upgrades.
“The goal,” said Getson, “is to be more user-friendly and more accessible.”
There will be some reconfiguration in the mechanical end of the building and the officials’ room will be relocated to where the skate-sharpening room is currently located.
“We want Hockeyville to be real legacy for the community,” Sweet said. “What we want to do is make the O’Leary rink a more user-friendly, accessible facility for everybody in the community.”
On the upper level, there’s a plan to knock open a wall near the elevator to give people with accessibility issues access to the breezeway behind the bleachers. Wheelchair accessible viewing is being proposed for above the stairwells.
‘As far as the roof and parking lot go, those are budget items that we can work with. The rink committee is doing okay. Those were things we were going to get fixed whether Hockeyville came along or not,” said Sweet in emphasizing the importance of using the funding to do something special for the arena.
Including merchandising and other special events associated with the Hockeyville celebrations last year, the renovations fund has grown to approximately $130,000, still a far cry from the $400,000 the planned renovations are expected to cost.
O’Leary Community Sports Centre Board of directors
President – Wade Sweet
Vice-president – Aaron Sweet
Secretary – Ashley Tuplin
Treasurer – Della Sweet
Board members: Denise MacDonald, David Harris, Darren Hutchinson, Joey Dumville, Stacy Rix, Kyle Cooke, Kory Cooke.
Dean Getson, Wade Sweet, Della Sweet, Sandy Stewart, Jordan MacIsaac, Libby Shaw.