BARRE – Central Vermont’s “hockey town” has temporarily put the opening of its indoor skating rink on ice, as officials await additional state guidance in the wake of growing cluster of COVID-19 cases linked to the Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center in Montpelier.
Jeff Bergeron, director of buildings and community services in Barre, made the call on Monday – announcing what he hopes will be a one-week delay in the opening of the BOR ice arena.
Bergeron cited a cluster of COVID-19 cases – 43 at last count – that have been traced to the rink at the base of Gallison Hill Road in Montpelier for his decision to delay this weekend’s scheduled opening of the BOR.
“I want to open on Sunday, but not knowing exactly what I’m opening into, I think it’s best we wait,” he said.
With additional state guidance on the operation of indoor skating rinks expected to be released by state officials by Friday, Bergeron said the delay will give the city time to tweak draft protocols for using the BOR and distribute them to the limited number of groups that have booked ice time in November.
For the time being there are only three. The Barre Youth Sports Association, the Barre Figure Skating Club and the men’s hockey league that plays once a week.
BYSA has rented some ice time at the Montpelier rink while waiting for the BOR to open and had booked 22 hours in Barre next week. The figure skating club had locked in a little more than six hours, and it isn’t clear whether the men’s league, which rents an hour of ice time on Tuesday nights, will be inconvenienced at all.
Bergeron said he wants a clear signal from the state that planned protocols are acceptable before allowing access to the rink where ice-making began last week and is nearing completion.
“I’m not going to jeopardize anybody’s health,” he said. “Not the kids, not the coaches, and not my employees.”
According to Bergeron, the rink has been flooded and frozen, the base has been painted and was scheduled to be sealed on Monday and the lines added today. That work, he said, could slide some given the one-week delay.
“There’s plenty of other stuff we can do,” he said, noting the Barre Civic Center complex will be hosting a flu clinic and COVID-19 testing site on Thursday, and the Barre Municipal Auditorium needs to be converted into the city’s polling place in coming days.
“The ice will be ready when we need it,” he said.
High school hockey won’t start until after Thanksgiving so the delay won’t have any effect on teams from Spaulding High School, though Bergeron said some of the changes he’s heard discussed – including “no checking” in hockey could be game-changers.
Bergeron said it is unclear whether that will be the new rule, but it is a given the BOR will function differently when it opens on Nov. 8.
According to draft protocols that appears to be the case. Masks would be required on and off the ice, no spectators would be permitted, and the locker rooms would be off limits so hockey players will have to come dressed and ready to skate.
According to the protocols, health checks would be required of all who enter, restroom availability would be limited, and showers, like the snack bar and vending machines, would be shut down.
BYSA, the figure skating club and, eventually, Spaulding’s hockey teams will need to provide a group-specific “exposure control plan” to the city and all participants must sign an “assumption of risk and waiver of liability” relating to the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Until further notice games and involving out-of-state teams will not be permitted and the public skating and an informal “stick and puck” hockey program have been shelved.
The proposed rules are mandatory and non-compliance will not be tolerated.
One change the city is considering, would be to allow one parent to accompany children under 10 to help them lace their skates, though that will be contingent on state guidance, and it is unclear whether they would be permitted to stay for the duration of the practice or game.
Under current guidelines the arena’s maximum occupancy is 75 people. That number could be changed at any time by the state and the city has reserved the right to lower the maximum occupancy.