WEEKEND SHOWS AND WOES:
Another busy weekend saw Sk8fest provide thrills, spills and breaks at the Glengarry Sports Palace in Alexandria, and exhibitors putting their best feet, and hooves, forward at the Williamstown Fair. At left, the annual skateboard festival ran into safety problems when the arena floor became slick after ice-making equipment was activated. A long-time supporter of the event is Jonny Cameron, 17, from Cornwall, seen here getting some big air off one of the event's new ramps. Meanwhile, the fair managed to deal with moisture from another source as heavy rains temporarily flooded the grounds. But that did not prevent the show from going on. (Above) Isabella Poirier, 15, from Williamstown, showing Donaldson from Cherry Crest Holsteins in Martintown took top prize in Summer Yearling at the Glengarry Holstein
A technical fiasco that covered the concrete floor of the Billy Gebbie Arena with a slippery build-up of water created hazardous conditions for the over 100 skateboarders who attended the 14th edition of Sk8Fest in Alexandria on Saturday.
North Glengarry residents Phoenix Milley and Grayson Andre-McNeil, both 11, sprained their wrists and needed on-site bandaging.
“I can still do some tricks, but when I tried one trick I can usually land, I slipped out and hurt my hand,” said Grayson, flashing his bandaged wrist.
“I hurt my head,” said Phoenix, pointing to a good-sized lump on his forehead just below the brim of his helmet. Later Grayson would also fall hard enough to hurt his wrist and need bandaging.
“I don’t know why the floor is the way it is— could it have been avoided?” wondered Grayson’s mother, Pam André, at 5 p.m. after most skateboarders had moved off the rink surface.
Ms. André has attended every Sk8fest since its inception. Her older son Tyler, now 22, was one of the founding members of the Alexandria Skate Team.
The event started degrading soon after the arena staff turned on the rink’s compressor and condenser to start laying down ice for an “Ice Making and Painting” course scheduled at the arena for Tuesday, Aug. 15. The rink floor began chilling two hours after the Sk8Fest gates opened at 11 a.m., and by 2 p.m., the surface had become a dangerous slip hazard.
“Our wheels are urethane so water and a slippery floor just doesn’t work,” said volunteer organizer Justin Sauve, stopping for a moment from working with other volunteers to improvise safe landing pads made from plywood.
“I’ve already had ten people get hurt, not seriously enough to go to the hospital, but badly enough that they can’t skate,” said Mr. Sauvé. “They’re messaging me and saying they are not coming back because they’re hurt.”
Alexandria music teacher, music therapist, and music store owner Alain Lauzon, who has been involved as a volunteer organizing Sk8Fest for a decade, says he is disappointed and feels helpless after this weekend’s debacle.
“I met with the manager ( Richard Wylie, Glengarry Sports Palace’s lead hand) three weeks ago when I learned that we would have to keep the arena’s big back doors closed throughout our event because they would be turning on the rink’s compressors to start chilling the floor to prepare for making ice,” said Mr. Lauzon on Monday.
“I asked what this would do and Richard told me it would cool the arena a few degrees which sounded good at the time,” said Mr. Lauzon. “In hindsight I realize that it’s pure physics that with the doors closed and no ventilation, of course a floor that’s being refrigerated is going to create condensation and become wet.”
At a little after 1:45 p.m. on Saturday, a fierce rainstorm dropped an inch of rain on Alexandria in 15 minutes when the rink floor was already wet with condensation. At this point, the only thing that could have helped would have been to open the large back doors to air out the area.
Mr. Wylie told Sk8Fest organizers that he had switched off the rink’s compressor but the floor continued to stay cold, sending up a cloud of mist at 4 p.m. Arena employees also tried to help out, installing a single fan near the closed back doors and handing out squeegees and a broom.
Mr. Lauzon says that this is the first time in the history of Sk8Fest that there have been any problems with arena conditions and says that he’s very relieved that no one was seriously injured this year.
For Mr. Sauvé, the unforeseen problems at this year’s Sk8Fest are disheartening.
“It’s so disappointing that after a whole year of planning and prepping, the event is spoiled by water on the floor,” he said. “I’m heartbroken, and I shouldn’t, but I feel personally terrible for what’s happened. So many people came and looked around and just left. In the beginning before the floor got wet it was packed, it was almost tight. Before the sweat happened there were 100 people on the floor and the most new ramps ever.”
Mr. Sauvé is one of the original Alexandria Skate Team teenagers who, in 2004, lobbied with spokesperson and concerned parent Natalie StDenis to raise funds, coordinate, and oversee the construction of the first phase of the skate park in Alexandria. At that time, North Glengarry council came on board with the project and helped secure $100,000 to complete the first phase of the project. Council also welcomed the Sk8Fest fundraiser to the Glengarry Sports Arena, an arrangement that has been repeated 14 times.
“Next year we plan to have our event earlier and nowhere near hockey time,” says Mr. Sauvé.
North Glengarry’s Recreation Director Anne Leduc (who was on vacation when SK8Fest took place) says that Mr. Lauzon didn’t know about the ice making and painting course when he booked the Sk8Fest date last year. The four-day course was booked in December. It was supposed to start on Monday but the township postponed it by one day in order to accommodate Sk8Fest. She adds that the course could not be postponed because the instructors are booked for several courses and this week was the only time slot that worked for the township. She adds that the Glengarry Sports Palace is already dealing with a “critical mass” of ice use requests. Earlier this year, South Glengarry Township had considered having Char- Lan Recreation Centre users, like the Char-Lan Rebels, approach the Glengarry Sports Palace for any early ice needs. Ewen MacDonald, South Glengarry’s Manager of Infrastructure, says that wound up being a non-issue as none of its groups needed early ice time. He did say that three of South Glengarry’s employees are taking the ice painting course and that there could be a precedent for the two townships to install their ice early on alternating years.
Ms. Leduc says that when township staff met with Mr. Lauzon, they encouraged him to pick an alternate date for the event as Aug. 12 was pretty close to the date of the ice making and painting course.
That’s something Mr. Lauzon says he couldn’t afford to do. Typically, Sk8Fest takes place the same weekend as the Williamstown Fair. In the beginning, organizers chose to hold the event later in the summer because they didn’t want to compete with music festivals like Vans Warped Tour and Heavy Montréal.
But with things being different now (Heavy Montréal is taking a hiatus this year) Mr. Lauzon says next year’s Sk8Fest may take place in July. This week, the Sk8Fest webpage also announced that the 2018 edition will be earlier in the summer.
Ms. Leduc agrees that an earlier Sk8Fest would be beneficial to everyone and encouraged organizers to target the largely teenaged audience while they’re still in school.
She also points out that Sk8fest is subsidized by the municipality, which provides the arena free of charge, pays for overtime staff, and even provides a grant to pay the bands. She estimates that this year’s Sk8Fest cost North Glengarry about $4,000.
Mr. Lauzon agrees that the township has always been generous but maintains that he’s still frustrated with the situation.
“The arena sponsors me and I don’t pay and I’m grateful for that,” he says. “The township gave us $2,500 and that enabled us to pay each musician at least $50 a head. But this was still an event and you can’t complicate it.
“Around 5:30 p.m., the water was right at the stage. We had thousands of dollars in equipment that was sitting in water.”
Also, in April, Mr. Lauzon was advised that the Glengarry Sports Palace had booked a wedding on the same date as Sk8Fest. He agreed to put the lower volume bands on before 6 p.m. when the wedding party would be getting underway. He also offered the wedding party an opportunity to have their photo taken on the dramatic Sk8Fest stage.
For his part, Mr. Sauvé is taking a live-and-learn approach.
“I’m a perfectionist and perfection also means safety,” he says. “I’m not complaining about the arena, it was basically a bad situation that nobody anticipated. We only learn from our mistakes and hopefully next year everything will run smoothly, but I’ll have this in my mind for the rest of my life.”
The Ontario Recreation Facilities Association (ORFA) course, which started yesterday, is for arena facility operators, specifically ice technicians, and according to ORFA’s website, covers topics including the risks and hazards associated with ice-making and the hidden dangers associated with this task.
SLIPPERY SK8FEST: Grayson André-McNeil of Alexandria sits on a skateboard ramp an hour before the close of Saturday’s Sk8Fest in Alexandria. The young athlete and Glens goaltender was one of the many skateboarders at the fundraiser who had a bad fall...