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Prince George Coliseum nearing end of its life span

Spruce Kings want to retain arena home in downtown core
PG Coliseum May 2022
The building formerly known as Rolling Mix Concrete Arena has reverted to its original name, Prince George Coliseum, after a three-year naming rights agreement expired. Built in 1958, the city's downtown arena is nearing the end of its shelf life.

The Prince George Coliseum might have been state of the art in 1958, when it opened, but at 64 years old, the ravages of time have taken a toll.

At some point, likely within the next decade, the city’s oldest arena is going to have to replaced.

Prince George Spruce Kings general manager Mike Hawes knows that’s not going to happen anytime soon. As the primary tenants of the building formerly known as Rolling Mix Concrete Arena, the Spruce Kings know the limitations and shortcomings of their hockey home, which has served them well since they first became a junior hockey team in 1972.

The Kings have been in on the discussions city officials have been having about the inevitability that the old rink has a limited shelf life ahead of it.

“It’s been a great building for us and we really love playing in it, but there’s not enough space in the facility, there’s not enough storage space and not enough room in the dressing rooms for the visiting teams. We can’t provide the amenities for our players that we would like to provide and for our staff with  proper coaches’ office and a training room and therapy room and players lounge, all those amenities that junior hockey teams provide their players now.

“We do the best we can with the space we have but it would be nice to have more space to be able to do those things.”

The fix won’t be cheap. Arenas are multi-million-dollar facilities that are also a drain on the city’s annual tax budgets to keep them operational and ultimately it will be political decision, likely to be decided in a referendum, for city council to pinpoint if and when the city will replace its downtown arena.

Assuming nothing major breaks down at the Coliseum, it still has plenty of life left in it and the city remains committed to keeping it in working order at least until 2029. The rink also received safety upgrades in the wake of an ammonia leak in Fernie in October 2017, which killed three men.

“There’s no question the Coliseum is old and some of its infrastructure is very old, but overall, it’s in relatively solid condition,” said Andy Beesley, the city’s director of recreation events. “The one major thing that needs work is the condenser, which is part of the ice plant, and that has already been funded (a $390,000 project) and is being replaced over the summertime. Other than being an older building, it’s pretty sound.

“We have found ways to continue to make it work and for the next few years we have to make sure we keep that building in as good a shape as possible for the Spruce Kings and the general public. Right now everything is working fine with the brine lines (that chill the concrete rink). We know the brine lines are old and are particularly difficult to fix if they ever do fail. Having said that, they’ve lasted for decades. They’re operating fine and there’s no reason to think they won’t continue to operate fine.”

The idea of shifting the Spruce Kings to CN Centre, the home of the Prince George Cougars of the WHL, would not serve the interests of either team. Hawes said Spruce Kings crowds, which averaged 746 in 2021-22, would get lost at CN Centre, which has a seating capacity of 5,971.

“That facility is too big for our program,” said Hawes.

“Secondly, we can’t have shared advertising in the building between the Western Hockey League and the BCHL. The Western Hockey League would never support BCHL teams advertising in one of their properties and the BCHL would never support BCHL teams advertising in one of their properties.”

The Coliseum’s 190-foot X 85-foot ice surface is 10 feet shorter than a regulation NHL-sized arena and mandates soon to be adopted by the BCHL specify teams should meet the NHL standard.

“In today’s standards and where the game has gone for players’ safety, which is the most important thing, to have boards like CN Centre and other newer buildings that have the give to them is important and it certainly would be nice to have that,” said Hawes.  “It’s something we certainly need to address.”

Having individual molded seats, as opposed to the current backless wood benches, would also help the Kings attract more people to the rink, Hawes said. The rink boards and glass at the Coliseum have virtually no give to them, unlike the rink boards installed at CN Centre in 2019, which are designed to sway slightly to absorb some of the impact of player collisions.

“The BCHL is the best junior A league in Canada and we’re trying to progress all the time and there are some infrastructure standards in our league that exist that we’re not able to meet right now,” said Hawes. “That includes a score clock with video replay on it, the flexi-boards that make the game safer for the players.

“Safety-wise, city does a great job of maintaining the building but it is built in 1958 and it’s probably at the end of its life and from a financial standpoint, replacing it might be the best thing to do, but that’s a discussion for the city.”

The Four Seasons Pool will be demolished this summer and the old No. 1 fire hall of Dominion Street adjacent to the Coliseum will also meet the wrecker’s ball later this year. That land could be used for the new rink and possibly a performing arts centre. A long-range civic core plan calls for the permanent closure of the road at the south end of Dominion.

“If they decide to replace our building we would still love to be in the downtown, ideally with a 2,000- to 2,500-seat arena with a few suites and the and office space and storage space and dressing rooms we need to run a proper franchise and be successful,” said Hawes. “Certainly, staying in the downtown would be great for us.”

Hawes said the team is happy with the existing lease it has with the city, which gives the community- owned Spruce Kings advertising and concession revenues. The Coliseum reverted to its original name earlier this week after a five-year naming rights agreement between Rolling Mix Concrete, the city and the Spruce Kings expired. The contract ended Dec. 31, 2020 but the pandemic delayed removal of the arena signs, which was further set back by the Spruce Kings’ playoff run.

Beesley said the new downtown aquatic centre is about 84 per cent complete and should be ready to open sometime in late August or early September. What remains to be done are the inside finishing touches, mostly tile work, completing change rooms and installing the tower for the water slide. A report to city council found the pool project, originally budgeted for $35 million, is $2.876 million over budget and will cost $39,126 million to build.

Council on Monday was asked to consider a naming rights proposal to name the facility Canfor Leisure Pool, which would require Canadian Forest Products Ltd., to provide the city $75,000 over five years.