Contractor ‘pays it forward’ with outdoor ice rink

1675437546 Contractor pays it forward with outdoor ice rink

Henry Knelsen learned how to skate a couple years ago.

And he loves it.

In December, Knelsen, a local concrete contractor who runs Handy Henry in Simcoe, decided to build a temporary outdoor ice rink on the property the business leases across the street from its Norfolk Street South office.

“I said, ‘This is going to be fun – we’re going to build a rink and I’ll learn how to skate even better’,” he said on Wednesday.

It’s also an opportunity to share an activity with others.

“We have an outreach here, so there’s always a whole bunch of us that get together. I figured it would be kind of fun to have a pop-up barbecue out here and do some skating.”

Knelsen, along with staff and friends, brought in some fill, graded the area with gravel and packed it down, and using wooden concrete forming boards and greenhouse plastic created a temporary foundation that measured 140 feet by 53 feet. The length was later reduced to about 100 feet.

“It’s been a mild winter,” said Knelsen, “but we’re getting a couple cold days now.”

Temperatures were not favorable through much of January, but they did get in a couple days of skating.

“We had some kids skating – a few locals. And a couple of our (Handy Henry) guys.”

On Jan. 25, a winter snowstorm filled the lot. They used a water truck to melt snow and rebuild the ice, flooding it twice on Feb. 1, with plans to add another light flood to get it ready for skating Friday and Saturday, Feb. 3-4.

“That was the plan… to get a few days out of it,” said Knelsen, who is inviting the community to use the ice. “We did it for the public. The community has supported us… so this is like paying it forward.”

Knelsen stressed it’s their first experience building an outdoor rink and he wants to make sure it’s safe. They hoped to have some of the rougher patches smoothed out for the weekend, but on Wednesday afternoon, it was still a work in progress.

“It is use at your own risk. Yeah, it would have to be ‘at your own risk.’”

Knelsen consulted with Norfolk County’s bylaw enforcement department to find out whether an outdoor rink was allowed in downtown Simcoe.

“I did talk to bylaw, and they said it’s OK because it’s not a permanent thing. But they said I should talk to a lawyer and see what I should do. So the best thing I came up with is to set up a sign, ‘At Your Own Risk.’”

In an email Thursday, Jarah Stefek, communications supervisor at the county, said Knelsen reached out to determine if a skating pad was a permitted use for the site. The property is zoned as Central Business District (CBD) and recreational uses are permitted. Knelsen was also provided an opinion on suggested fencing and potential liability issues.

This winter has been a learning curve, said Knelsen, as they figured out what it takes to build a rink and what is recommended, including extra insurance.

“I talked to the BIA and they said they would insure it, but we had to insure it first and they would insure it on top. So there is definitely a possibility (next year). But the local BIA is paying for the water.”

Knelsen learned the hard way there are better materials to use in constructing rinks.

“The first year doing it, I got greenhouse plastic. It’s pretty thick and it seems to hold up pretty good, but the greenhouse plastic attracts the sun, so that sure doesn’t help. Now we know for next year.”

Knelsen said they still plan to create an outdoor rink next year, but it may be at a different location.

“We’re going to do a rink somewhere,” Knelsen smiled. “Now that we’ve learned all the ins and outs, and we know how much people love it, we’re doing a rink either way. Just maybe not here.”

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