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‘Very sad day for us’: Ammonia leak forces closure of Prescott’s only arena

An ammonia leak at Prescott's 'Lee Boivin Arena' has forced the town to permanently close its only ice surface.

It’s a devastating loss to the small town of Prescott.

After much consideration, it was decided at an emergency meeting to permanently close the Lee Boivin Arena over concerns of an ammonia leak. The 50-year-old facility still uses the dangerous gas for their ice-chilling equipment. Prescott’s Mayor, Brett Todd, says it was a hard choice to make.

“Very sad day for us, very tragic day for us, that we had to de-commission this building,” Todd said.

The news came after the town’s refrigeration contractor did pressure testing on the system as a safety measure. This was due to concerns about the use of ammonia, following the tragic deaths of three men in Fernie, B.C. back in October of 2017.

“Because of them losing a little bit of pressure, they just decided with the age of the system, they wouldn’t let us repair,” Todd said. “That was it.”

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READ MORE: Deadly Fernie ammonia leak caused by decision to operate leaky chiller: report

Todd says the deaths in B.C. and another recent closure in Goderich, Ont., due to an aging refrigeration system, have heightened everyone’s anxiety about the older ice-making method.

“A lot of it comes down to the changed landscape in Canada.”

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MPP Steve Clark says although it is a devastating loss to the community, the government will try and help as much as they can.

“We just want to make sure when the town picks a site, [a] facility they want to build, we will move quickly to organize that meeting,” Clark said.

Todd says he hopes the government will listen to their concerns about the arena and other surrounding infrastructure. With the aging buildings, roads, and other facilities, he believes the closure of the plant is only the beginning.

“We really do need more assistance from the province on infrastructure, along with every other town, city, township in Ontario,” Todd said. “It’s a major problem and it’s becoming a crisis.”

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As Prescott’s only location for hockey teams and other clubs, the decision still stings for the small town.

READ MORE: Ammonia leak forces evacuation of Vancouver’s West End Community Centre

Mayor Todd says the arena was used by a number of hockey teams and ice users, so it will be tricky finding ice time when it’s so close to the beginning of the season.

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“It’s going to be tough on the users,” Todd said. “One of the things I really worry about is the Prescott Figure Skating Club. This is their headquarters.”

Now, people and groups looking for ice time will have to search out of town. Mayor Todd says they are working on internal options, but for now, ice users will have to go to either Kemptville, Brockville or other surrounding communities for this winter season.

The need for a new arena was on the horizon for the town, but it wasn’t in desperate need until now. Todd says that new arena won’t be ready for at least another 24 to 30 months and could cost between $8 million and $10 million.

Although the arena cannot be used as an ice rink anymore, Todd says they do plan on renovating the space to serve the community.

“Maintaining it as a recreational facility, whether that means ball-hockey, pickleball, floor hockey.”