BY STEVE DILLS
SYLVAN LAKE NEWS
As people mourn the loss of a community recreation hub in Sylvan Lake, there’s also a wave of relief sweeping the community.
A few minutes — or hours — earlier, and the collapse of the arena’s roof could have had devastating results.
Luckily there was no loss of life or injuries.
A women’s hockey game concluded about 11 p.m. and they “left around midnightish”, according to a post on the Sylvan Lake News’ Facebook page by Arla Lunde.
About 12:30 a.m. Monday morning, Patrick Sawyer was driving the ice resurfacer when he heard what he described as a couple of bangs. He initially thought it was someone at the back door and continued on his circuit. But when a second series of cracks resounded through the building and the roof started to collapse, he scrambled to safety uninjured. He “had the wherewithal to shut off gas in the building” and check that everyone was out before phoning emergency services and his boss of 27 years, Graham Parsons, Sylvan Lake Summer Hockey Camp owner and operator of the arena. Parsons in turn alerted Mayor Sean McIntyre.
Sylvan Lake firefighters received the call at 12:53 a.m. and when they arrived RCMP were already there.
At least two beams and portions of the roof collapsed and the back (east) wall was blown out. Snow and debris littered the ice surface and buried the ice resurfacer which was still on the ice, just metres from the door where it enters the rink.
Snow was visibly thicker on the south side of the roof, where it was shadowed by the adjacent multiplex, than the north side which is visible from 49th Avenue.
At the scene shortly after the collapse, McIntyre said, “I can hardly believe my eyes. Absolutely shocking.”
The arena, which opened in 1972, was scheduled for replacement by a larger leisure centre in the near future. “We were hoping to get another two years out of it, we haven’t started detailed design yet,” Ron Lebsack, director of community services said during a press conference at noon Monday.
Asked about snow on the roof, Lebsack said the town has always had a snow removal program. Last Thursday, they’d just finished snow removal from the curling rink roof for the second time this season. “We hadn’t had a chance to get to this facility yet … within a couple of days we would have gotten to it.”
McIntyre stated, “There are a lot of heartbroken people in Sylvan Lake today. We’ve had an icon, a landmark in our community, collapse.”
“There’s a lot of love for the facility, a lot of sadness to see it go.”
He added, the town has faced adversity and tragedy in its 100 year history and pulled together before. “Now’s when we band together as a community to see a new facility built, to make new memories.”
“It’s sad,” said Parsons who has walked the halls of the building for the past 40 years. “You’d like to say goodbye to the old girl the proper way. It shouldn’t go unceremoniously like this.”
Home to the long running hockey camp, the arena has hosted tens of thousands of youngsters over the years, many who have gone on to careers in the NHL and European hockey leagues. The camp will continue this summer utilizing the multiplex.