There’s no such thing as a free lunch – or even a free place to eat lunch – at the new Woolwich Memorial Centre.
Sticking with their assertion a new recreation facility would come with higher user fees to cover the costs, township councillors this week turned down a request to waive rental fees for a community event during the Atlanta Thrashers’ practice session in Elmira Sunday.
Organizers of the event had asked for two hours of ice time and access to the community room at the WMC to host the NHL squad.
“We want to make this a free event for the public. It’s a big day for us as a community,” said organizer Jim Radcliffe, president of Woolwich Minor Hockey.
The Thrashers will be stopping in Elmira Sunday between games in Buffalo and Montreal. Players will skate in the arena bearing the name of former teammate Dan Snyder, an Elmira native who died following an automobile collision in 2003.
While here, the team will honour Snyder, hold an open practice session and sign autographs.
Although indicating support for the event, Woolwich councillors balked at the subsidy, which would amount to $400 or $500.
Coun. Mark Bauman suggested organizers look at setting up donation jars at the event, saying most people would be glad to chip in to help cover costs. Radcliffe, however, noted there were already plans to do just that, with proceeds going to Friends of Hockey, a local group that provides financial assistance to make the sport accessible to kids whose families can’t afford the cost.
By paying the township, the group will have fewer dollars for the kids, he said.
Radcliffe also pressed the township about the size of the crowd that would be allowed to attend the event, noting the 1,500 limit seemed too low. Organizers have no idea what kind of crowd to expect, not having sold tickets, but they were hoping for around 2,000.
“We’re hoping that if 2,200 show up, they let 2,200 in,” he said in an interview.
Both Bauman and Coun. Ruby Weber suggested that seating of 1,300 might be augmented by standing room for up to an additional 1,000.
But in a later interview, facilities manager Brian Detzler said safety regulations – based on factors such as the width of aisles and availability of emergency exits – limits standing room to 187, bringing the official total to just shy of 1,500.
“We have to watch our maximum occupancy loads. That’s what the building is designed to hold,” he said of the total.
Recreation staff were working this week with organizers to address security and access control issues for what is expected to be a full house.
“We need to have a plan in place should attendance reach occupancy loads.”
Radcliffe noted executive members of the minor hockey organizations and other parents would be out to help manage the event. As well, paid-duty officers from the Waterloo Regional Police will be on hand.