Colonsay’s Arena: A Community Effort and Environmentally Responsible Example
COLONSAY, Sask. - When Mayor Tony Walliser gazes at the Colonsay & District Sports Centre these days, the L-shaped steel structure housing curlers, skaters and hockey players is not the only thing he sees.
In his mind’s eye, Walliser also pictures the 500 residents of Colonsay. He visualizes them playing bingo, buying raffle tickets and knocking on corporate doors, raising more than $220,000 for the innovative new heating system that has made the arena a state-of-the-art green building. He even envisions them farming the half-section of land area farmers donated so the town could sell off a money-raising crop of canola and peas.
“We’ve done well for a small community sticking together,” Walliser says modestly. “It’s an excellent project.”
In April of this year, Colonsay became the first community in Saskatchewan and one of the first four in Canada to qualify for funding from the Green Municipal Investment Fund, a joint project of the Government of Canada and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. It received a $50,000 loan and a $50,000 grant. The loan, repayable through anticipated energy savings, will help with the cost of installing a heat pump with a geothermal sink and heat source in the arena.
Colonsay’s demonstration of community spirit was a key factor in persuading the Federation of Canadian Municipalities of the merits of the town’s application for the loan and grant, says Louise Comeau, director of the sustainable communities and environmental policy department for the federation. The federation administers the Green Municipal Funds.
“When a small community not only manages to pull together a fairly complicated application for the Green Funds, but also engages the community in an impressive level of fund-raising, that’s significant,” says Comeau. “This is a special project that will achieve real environmental improvements.”
The federal government established the $125 million Green Muncipal Funds in its 2000 budget. The $100 million revolving investment fund awards up to $2 million each year in grants for innovative pilot projects like the arena’s heat-pump installation. The idea behind the awards is that other communities will be able to adopt the technology in the future.
Colonsay is already getting calls from other municipalities across the province and elsewhere in the country about the technology - known as “ice-cube heat” - and about the Green Funds, says town clerk Joanne Binsfeld.
Before it installed the new heating system, Colonsay’s arena contained only one rink of artificial ice. Each year, the town had to depend on the vagaries of the weather to open a natural ice rink for skating. The uncertainty of when that rink would open meant many Colonsay hockey players joined teams in neighbouring towns, where they could be assured of a longer season on artificial ice.
Using the new heat-pump system, the town will now be able to provide artificial ice for both curling and skating. The heat generated by making the ice will be stored in the ground and then brought back into the building through heat pumps to warm the arena, says Bruce Helmkay, a welder in the town’s maintenance department who helped kick-start the project.
The new ice-cube heat will save both energy and money, says Helmkay. The town is projecting savings of 50 per cent or more on energy costs. In effect, Colonsay will now be able to operate two artificial ice rinks for the cost of one. Helmkay also hopes having at least five months a year of assured ice time will revitalize hockey and curling teams in Colonsay. “The kids will be on the ice the first of November this year rather than December or early January,” Helmkay says. “I’m kind of excited about it. We plan on having teams we never had before.”
The town will also be able to rent out its ice to nearby Saskatoon and other communities, providing a money-making opportunity. Not only will parents be spared many of the early-morning commutes for hockey practices or for games, Colonsay will pick up the extra revenue from spectators buying a cup of coffee or stopping for lunch as they watch away teams play at the arena, says Binsfeld.
From that perspective, the renovations to the arena are an investment in Colonsay’s future, she says. Four or five families from Saskatoon have already moved to Colonsay after getting to know the town through time spent at the arena. She hopes the extended season for hockey, curling and skating will provide even more exposure for out-of-towners who might decide to stay.
“We want to draw people to our community. Maybe if we get enough people going through, they’ll stay – they’ll build a house. That would help us grow,” Binsfeld says.
Binsfeld is the first to admit that the application process for the Green Municipal Funds has been time-consuming. Detailed reports on the project’s progress and statistics on energy and cost-savings are required at various steps along the way, she says. But she was more than willing to undertake the paperwork.
“I was willing to do it because of the size of this project,” says Binsfeld. “It’s going to end up being close to a half-a-million (dollar) project, and (for) any grants and loans we could get, I was willing to do what we had to do.”
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is also willing to guide municipalities, especially small ones, through the application process for the Green Funds and to help them complete the application forms, says Comeau. “We’re here to help where we can - we will facilitate,” she promises.
The new arena is already using its ice-cube heating, although this will be the first full year that the arena has artificial ice in both rinks. Binsfeld hopes that within three years, the energy savings will be enough for the town to pay off its debts.
The heat system’s environmental benefits - reducing the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted - were a major plus in selling corporate donors on the project, says Walliser. He praised IMC Kalim, the Colonsay potash mine, for its contribution to the town’s fund-raising efforts. “Anything to do with the kids, they help us out,” he says.
Binsfeld believes other municipalities will be eager to participate in the Green Funds, especially after hearing about Colonsay’s experience. “Every municipality is under the gun to save money,” she says. With projects like these, it doesn’t take long.”