Ten years ago, when Joanne Warawa started curling at the rink in Elk Point, AB, she says it was kind of a dump. The walls were 1980’s blue, the carpet was years past its expiration date. It wasn’t as clean as you would expect a public building to be, and many things were in need of repair or replacement.
The 4-sheet rink was inefficient and unable to compete with the rinks in nearby towns who had nice facilities and good ice. The facility is run 100% by volunteers, and the ones helping were already doing more than their share.
It bothered the Chartered Professional Accountant.
“The building creates the culture,” she says. “When it’s clean and in good shape it demands more respect, and people take better care of it and appreciate what we have.”
Warawa, who became the Club’s treasurer, got involved.
“So much was lacking,” she recalls. “We’re in an oil patch town that brought a lot of good years. But times have changed and now that both the curling rink and the arena need so much work, it is not so easy to come up with the money.”
Transforming the worn out, dirty place into one that was more welcoming, volunteer efficient, safely accessible and had better quality ice with a longer season was the goal. Last month, with the help of government grants, fundraisers, volunteer sweat and their can-do attitude, the first stones of the season were thrown. They’re now playing in a bright facility that boasts something the Elk Point curlers hadn’t seen for a long time: ice that is level, keen and true.
Persistence and Adversity
The Elk Point CC’s transformation is a story of persistence and overcoming adversity. When they compiled the lengthy “to-do” list, there were many challenges the Board wanted to solve if they would still have a building to curl in, and curlers for their club. That included an inefficient sand floor below the ice, an aging plant, old-school energy-intensive metal halide lighting, the financial impact of the COVID-19 shutdown, a sad bar area with a generation of stains and smells in the carpeting, a leaky roof, bright green paint peeling off the front of the exterior of the building, and an entrance with a challenging slope to it.
“Our first grant was for a facelift for the front of the building, replacing all the flooring, painting inside, replacing the lights on the ice, refurbishing the chiller and replacing the wooden bathroom stalls,” Warawa recalls. “That actually helped our cause beyond making the building more attractive and accessible. People saw us doing something with the grant money. That gave confidence in the volunteers, the county, and our sponsors, that we were doing something that made a difference with the money. And that helped us get more.”
Leaking Roof and the Challenges of The Existing Sand Floor
The rink’s sand floor and replacing the leaking tin roof became the next priority. Having a sand floor meant, except for the club’s bar, the rink was a single-purpose venue. By removing the sand and replacing it with concrete, the club would have year-round revenue potential and solve many issues – including the short season they had to curl with substandard ice.
“It used to take a solid month to get the ice in,” Warawa recalls. “We had to wait until it was cold enough outside to start the plant, and there was nothing to stop the water from running outside of the rink area when we were flooding. As well, the sand wasn’t level, resulting in uneven ice – sometimes at a depth difference of 6″ on one end. That made it expensive to run the refrigeration plant and didn’t result in good curling ice. We also had to deal with heaves throughout the season. This is far too much to ask of volunteers and then expect them to do all the ongoing scraping that needs to be done.”
Grant Applications – and Volunteer Hours
The Government of Alberta’s Community Facility Enhancement Program (CFEP) is a source of matched funding for many organizations, and the Elk Point CC has benefitted from it twice. In 2017, it received $42,921 to renovate the clubhouse and refurbish the chiller.
“We tallied up our volunteer hours and it came to over 400 hours with that project,” Wawara explains. “Volunteers replaced all the lighting, painted, installed the baseboards, ripped up the carpets and put down new laminate flooring, and installed the new bathroom stalls. Anything we could do, we did ourselves to save money.”
With some cosmetic upgrades and the chiller refurbished, the focus turned to the rink’s sand floor and tin roof. Sand and residual ice paint would be tracked through the building on people’s shoes, contributing to the unending task of keeping the building clean.
COVID-19 impacted the club, but the grant applications and lobbying the local County for funding continued. At the beginning of January 2021, the County of St. Paul committed just under $30K, along with a letter of support, for their next CFEP application for work putting down a concrete slab and re-tinning the roof. The $125,000 grant was approved in October 2021. Little, though, would happen due to COVID until 2022.
With COVID in the rear-view mirror, the Club was ready to move forward. Unfortunately, they were now facing skyrocketing prices due to supply chain issues. Updated quotes were gathered, which forced a change in the Club’s strategy. Re-tinning the roof had to be put on the back burner if they were going to be able to get the concrete slab in place. Ice arena floor experts Reward Construction out of Leduc County, just south of Edmonton, were chosen to replace the sand floor to give the Club year-round revenue potential. Reward Construction is renowned in both hockey and curling circles: their customers include Rogers Place in Edmonton.
“We had a really good working relationship with Reward,” Warawa says. “They let us supply labour at a rate of three volunteers to each Reward worker to get the job done. That made a big difference to the cost. And our growing network of volunteers meant if Reward needed something to get the job done that they didn’t have, we could come up with it fast.”
Putting the New Floor In
There’s a lot that must be done to pour concrete for a rink and the Elk Point CC’s volunteers tackled the brutal, messy work. The volunteers removed all the old pipes, walkways, header trenches, top layer of sand that wasn’t suitable and installed the weeping tile. They supplied 75% of the labour for laying the warm pipes on the sand, laying the insulation then poly over the warm floor, placing the rink chairs and rebar, cutting the cold pipes to fit, pulling and placing them in the rink chairs, laying down the wire mesh and tying the mesh and the rebar. (The most unpleasant of those tasks being tying rebar and mesh which is repetitive, tedious work and hard on the back). They also attached the individual pipes to the cold header and then had to ensure the pressure met the necessary tests while fixing the leaks in an environment that didn’t go above 15°C.
“Some things we wish we knew before we started like the heaters. We planned to install the heaters after the concrete but the project ended up getting delayed into October and it was getting cold at night…the cold effects the pressure and takes longer for the slab to cure.”
Avoiding Ice Paint
When they started the refrigeration plant at the beginning of December, the ice making process would also change. Instead of using ice paint, the Club turned to Kevin Grumetza from Hack To Hack/Goal To Goal Solution Inc. to purchase the reusable, customized rink liners that Grumetza invented and patented. Printed on mesh with only 2% of the sheets having perforations (to let the water and air through), the sheets are used worldwide in curling and hockey rinks, from the 4-sheet Inuvik Curling Centre in Canada’s North West Territories to the NHL-sized Theatre of Dream Warrior Ice Arena in Bangkok, Thailand.
What Grumetza’s “Easy Sheets” have given the club is a big reduction in the volunteer hours required with ice paint, both in putting the ice in, and in taking the ice out. And how thin the ice now means the club will face lower electricity costs.
“All they need to do is roll the sheets out and add water,” Grumetza says. “No fuss, no mixing, and that’s quick to do. And at the end of the season, they won’t need to worry about the ice paint staining their floor or disposing of it properly because once they get rid of the water, all that’s left are the sheets.”
Thinner Ice, Warmer Ice Temperatures and Lower Utility Costs
The club is now running their plant at 26°F, with their ice at 5/8th of an inch thick.
“That’s 7°F warmer than what we could do ever before we put in the new floor,” says Tyler Warawa, Joanne’s husband, a fellow curler and lead volunteer for the project. As for the ice? Tyler says it’s exactly as curlers want it.
“It’s level, keen and true.”
The four sheets of ice at Elk Point Curling Club after the transformation
Here’s more of what Tyler had to say:
“In previous years, due to the sand and rink base not being level, we would flood for 3-4 weeks to build up the ice enough to curl. Due to the sand, no insulation and resulting ice thickness we had to run the plant at 19°F. After laying the Hack To Hack sheets we have roughly 5/8” of ice over the sheets and now run the plant at 26°F. Not only is this a huge savings in volume of water and volunteer time, it will also drop our utility bills dramatically.
Our Club is back up and running with 18 mixed teams, 2 junior, 1 senior and a youth program, all enjoying the new ice surface. With the ice being consistent and keen across all the sheets, our Club members have loved the change. Also our Junior and Senior teams will actually be able to learn the game properly and have an even footing when going off to school, bonspiel and zone competitions.”
The Club is now flourishing, with the number of teams climbing from 7 when the Warawa’s started curling, to 18 — plus a junior curling program.
Next Up: Kraft Hockeyville for the Town’s Arena
Joanne Warawa says that aside from re-tinning the roof, they still have items on their to-do list. But for the moment, the community is turning its attention to the A.G. Ross Arena, Elk Point’s 50-year old hockey rink and its quest to win this year’s Kraft Hockeyville competition. Kraft Hockeyville annually rewards one lucky arena with $250,000 for upgrades and the right to host an NHL pre-season game; two runner-up arenas are awarded with $100,000 each for arena upgrades. Winning would be a big benefit to the Ross Arena, which is in desperate need of a new ice plant and many other upgrades.
If you’d like to support this small town in their arena transformation, go to their Kraft Hockeyville page.
WEBINAR – FEBRUARY 7 AT 4:30 PM
Finally… If you’d be interested in joining a Zoom webinar for 1 hour on February 7th at 4:30 MST to hear first-hand about Elk Point CC’s lessons learned, ask questions about anything from the floor process and rink liners to grant applications, please let me know by email. I’ll send out an invitation.