Save old Arnaitok arena, residents plea

MLA will go to mayor to preserve old arena

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

DENISE RIDEOUT

The biggest message delivered to Iqaluit East MLA Ed Picco at his constituency meeting this week came from the smallest person in attendance.

Eight-year-old Paulusi Davidee begged Picco to save Iqaluit’s Arnaitok arena, the city’s oldest — and it seems dearest — arena. It’s slated to be shut down this spring.

Davidee, wearing a sealskin jacket, cleared his throat twice before stepping up to the microphone.

“In the past year I have learned to skate at the Arnaitok arena. Maybe you have seen me there?” he said to Picco, who often takes his children skating at Arnaitok.

Holding a piece of paper with his message written in English and Inuktitut, Davidee then said: “Please help us keep the arena open.”

Picco, smiling, responded: “I’ve seen Paulusi skating at the arena there and I hope you grow up to be the next Mario Lemieux.” Davidee, who by now was sitting on the floor with two other boys, looked at his friends and said “Wow, Mario Lemieux.”

Davidee’s comments sent the 15 people who gathered at the Feb. 19 meeting into laughter.

Picco hosted the meeting, which took place at the Unikkaarvik Visitors’ Centre, to give constituents in his Iqaluit East riding a chance to air their concerns. The riding is made up of the Happy Valley, Tundra Valley and Apex areas. It was Picco’s fourth constituency meeting since being elected MLA on April 1, 1999.

Several residents used the meeting to urge Picco to help put a stop to the arena’s impending closure.

The Arnaitok arena, which opened in the early 1970s, is now referred to as the “old arena” in Iqaluit. That’s because the city now has a brand new, spiffy arena for the 2002 Arctic Winter Games. It’s complete with a 200-foot-long rink — the same size the NHL plays on, and larger than the Arnaitok rink.

While both arena’s ice surfaces will get a lot of use during the Arctic Winter Games, the old arena is scheduled too close permanently on April 22.

In an interview last month with Nunatsiaq News, Mayor John Matthews said the city created a “recreational master plan” and determined there isn’t enough activity to support operating two arenas in Iqaluit.

The city is also short of cash at the moment, struggling to find money for basic infrastructure projects, such as paving roads and building a new dump.

According to the City of Iqaluit’s 2001 operating budget, it cost $171,000 last year to run the Arnaitok arena. Shutting it down would save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Iqaluit resident Siobhan Moss said the decision doesn’t sit well with her. She said with just one arena, hockey players, speed skaters and people wanting to go for family skates will all have to compete for limited ice time.

With the capital city growing at such a fast rate, there’s a need for two skating facilities, she said. “Everything is increasing, but we’re going to decrease the number of sporting facilities here. It just doesn’t make sense,” she told Picco.

Carl McLean followed Moss’ comments, saying, “With the population of Iqaluit being so young, recreation facilities are important to have.”

Picco, who has skated and played hockey in both arenas, said he doesn’t want to see the old arena close. There have already been some rumblings among residents that the new arena, located on the Road to Apex, isn’t convenient for children who live in downtown Iqaluit.

Two arenas could serve residents who live in different areas of the city, Picco said.

After listening to their comments, Picco told his constituents he’s determined to go directly to the mayor to stop the closure.

“Maybe we could go to the council, who are our elected representatives, and tell them how we feel,” Picco suggested.

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