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Rivulettes make strong case for gender equity in Preston Memorial Auditorium improvements

'We want to show these girls that they aren't treated with any less respect than the boys' teams and they're equally as deserving,' says Cambridge Rivulettes player Courtney Rice
preston memorial arena
The designs for the extension of the Preston Memorial Auditorium drew criticism from user groups asking for more equity in space given to female hockey teams.

Gender equity concerns over Preston Memorial Auditorium expansion designs forced council to defer its decision and send staff back to the drawing table to incorporate more amenities for stakeholders.

The design options were shared at a recent meeting by Scott Robinson of architects Tillmann Ruth Robinson Inc.

The new arena building will expand out to the north of the existing building. 

Option one adds an National Hockey League-size rink with 450 seats, change rooms, washrooms, wider lobby, staff room and some more storage in 33,756 square feet of new area and 4,000 square feet of renovated area.

Option two adds the NHL-size rink, with 1,000 square feet for Cambridge Minor Hockey Association, 1,000 square feet for change rooms, wider and warmer lobby, where Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame can display its winter sports-related items, in 39,665 square feet of new space and 7,114 square feet renovated.

Option three brings all of the above, as well as a walking track above the rink. This will require additional construction of 50,299 square feet and 7,114 square feet of renovations. 

Robinson said parking remains an issue. 

"The existing count is just over 100 parking spots," he said. "According to the city's parking regulation, this is under size for the existing arena. You should be at around 360 spots total. When we add our addition with the rink with 450 seat, we will be required to add an additional 124 parking spaces. There's a lot of pressure on the existing site. It's land-locked so there isn't an opportunity to provide parking on the site itself. 

"We were looking at the rink across the street for additional parking," Robinson explained. "There are a couple different configurations to increase the parking by 120 to 160 spots. We're continuing to work through that. We'd like to engage parking consultants to do a parking justification study to understand the constraints on the site and ways to work around that."  

User groups had already scrutinized the three design concepts and openly shared their opinions. 

Front and centre in expressing worries was Cambridge Rivulettes coach Geoff Haddaway. 

"The new proposal that was presented to council the other night reduced the capacity by 50 per cent," he told CambridgeToday. "Projections show that arena capacity is going to be exceeded very shortly (three to seven years)."

Haddaway said average attendance 10 years ago was at 74 and average attendance in 2019 was close to 200, with charitable events easily drawing in more than 300 people.

"On top of that, seating capacity of 450 is at ice level," he said. "As a hockey fan, you can't watch the entire game if you're sitting at ice-level. And the seating is only on one side."

Also, Haddaway said, there's no elevated press box or the ability to video from a bird's eye view.

"We need it as a teaching tool and need to pass it onto universities for possibility of scholarships," he said. "We've exceeded $3.5 million in scholarships that our players have received."

He said the change rooms may be better than what is already there, but there's less room overall amenities, you need a coaches' office, an admin room, space for a trainer's table and room for a skate sharpener.

Others that presented to council at the recent meeting included John Morton from Cambridge Minor Hockey Association, Kirsty Booth from Cambridge Roadrunners Girls Hockey Association, professional women's player and Team Canada member Jocelyne Larocque and Rivulettes player Courtney Rice.

"This upcoming season will be my third year playing for the Rivs," said the 18-year-old Rice. "I was always one of the Rivulettes's biggest fans. They truly inspired me to be the player and person I am today. I looked up to the Rivulettes in a way I can't even describe. I'm honoured to be playing for the Rivs organization. Being a Rivulette means I can now be the hero and idol the Rivs once were to me."  

Rice said the female hockey teams have to work twice as hard to get the recognition and support the boys' teams do.

"This has gone on for far too long," she said. "Most of our players get scholarships and play at university level, myself included. Our coaches play a very very big role in that. We deserve way more than what you're offering to give us and frankly it's just not fair. With the proposed plans, it feels like we're taking two giant steps back, which is not we want to show our younger generations.

"We want to show these girls that they aren't treated with any less respect than the boys' teams and they're equally as deserving," Rice said. "Please reconsider your plans and give the junior girls the amenities the boys already have."

Haddaway said he and others were not pointing out discrepancies in the designs because they're against the male hockey teams.

"There's no threat to us," he added. "We want to work together with the junior B team."

But the fact remains that the new designs are offering only 65 per cent of the amenities local male teams already have, Haddaway said.

"Why do we have a new rink that doesn't address these issues for a junior team of the highest level?" he said, noting the junior B team plays at the Galt Arena Gardens, which has 1,931 square feet in terms of amenities, compared to the 650 square feet at the Preston auditorium. "The Galt arena doesn't have the capacity to hold two junior teams. Our teams have always operated out of Preston. There's a sentimental value there."  

Not only does the footprint of the amenities fall short of what is needed, he said, but seems as if the arena will run out of capacity before it's even built. 

"Are we talking just today or should we be planning for what's to come in the next years?" Haddaway said. "The popularity of the women's hockey team is on the rise. We're on the verge of achieving a full-time status for women's professional hockey. Then women professional hockey players can make a full-time living playing hockey." 

Plus, he said, having more capacity gives the community better access, too.

"If we're on the cusp of a professional (women's hockey) league, that means more people are going to want to see players that have pro-hockey written on them," Haddaway said.

All is not lost, he said, because he feels with the decision to defer approval of the draft design for another eight weeks or so, council, city staff, and the consultants have paid heed to the words of the arena users.

Consultants and city staff will return to council later in June with updated designs.