Guest Blog Post written by Ian Storey
President, I.B. Storey Inc.
When you’re up to your neck in alligators, it’s hard to think about draining the swamp. Well, I didn’t say that – at least originally. The first time I heard someone say that, I was working on a project at Seaman’s Beverages in Charlottetown… a while ago. I was busily making plans for a heat recovery project from the refrigeration plant, and the Beverage Plant General Manager turned to me and mentioned the dilemma of alligators and swamps. This was before Google and I had never heard of that expression. (Today there are many versions of this saying which can all be quickly found on Google).
In our current pandemic environment, recreation facilities are struggling to survive as user groups would all dearly love to be fully engaged (like 2019 or something) but of course, restrictions mean that many are weaving in-and-out of some form of restricted or reduce operation. That’s the alligators. However, pandemics do not (and this one will not) last forever. Will Smith, while legendary, isn’t an actor portraying the future. And at some point, the pandemic will be referred to in the past tense. Making recreation facilities sustainable, both financially and environmentally is going to be the expectation if not the very need going forward. That’s the “draining of the swamp” part.
The pandemic is beyond our control. And things that are beyond our control, we cannot effect change in them by the very definition of being “beyond our control”. But instead of focusing on what we can’t do, it’s more productive to focus on what we can do. The alligators are a real and persistent problem but long term, draining the swamp will yield the greatest benefits. And how does this relate to recreation facilities? Well, draining the swamp is not unlike enhancing the sustainability of the recreation facility. It’s important work but it’s often hard to prioritize. Late 2020 is actually a great time to prioritize some swamp-draining activity. Why? Let’s re-examine things we can count on. We know the pandemic will end. We know it will be a challenge to get everything back into normal operation. And finally, we know that it will be that much more difficult for the operation to remain sustainable.
Of course, the approach could be, “wait until the government bails us out”, but this is a perpetual trip through a mine field fraught with danger. This has been the historical approach. And when facilities were “less old” the semi-emergency repair funding-model did not have as much peril as the frequency of the necessary financial injections was less burdensome. As recreation facilities age, the frequency tends to shorten. A more-effective approach is a revolving fund with or without an initial injection of capital. In a revolving fund approach, a sequential list of operating cost-reducing projects is identified. The key is to ensure that list of projects will perform as anticipated and provide long-term viability. It is particularly useful to target all operating cost items (energy, maintenance, consumables etc) in order to leverage cost savings. Simply put, an initial project is implemented, the savings realized from the first project are “set aside” and when funds are sufficient to pay for the second project, the second project is implemented and savings for projects one and two are “set aside” to pay for project three. And so on. The advantages of this type of self-funding continual improvement are to continually improve and upgrade while every day becoming more sustainable. The disadvantages of this approach are the length of time taken to get vital updates as well as the maintained-level of spending. When seeking financial relief (ie less spending now) organizations will often split the “set-aside” money appropriately. That is, 80% set aside, 20% cost relief or 50/50 or whatever is appropriate to the organization. The timing of a revolving fund can be greatly accelerated with an initial “seed” investment. In this scenario, an initial financial investment into items that drive further savings used to fund future improvements yields faster dividend.
If you are thinking that investment of any kind can’t be afforded, that’s the first place to start. That’s an upside-down paradox. Recreation facilities can’t afford NOT to become more sustainable. Future trends and pressures will mean severely affect the viability of these facilities longer-term. There have been municipally-owned facilities in central Canada which are decommissioning ice services due to cost cutting that is required. In this case, no sustainability improvement action occurred and it is now simply too late.
As for any sort of infrastructure funding to get stated, there certainly is potential for Canadian Infrastructure dollars to flow – but these will certainly be linked towards greening approaches (greenerrinks.nhl.com) or Net Zero energy. (For more information, see ORFA Facility Forum Fall 2020, https://www.facilityforum-digital.com/orfq/0320_fall_2020/MobilePagedArticle.action?articleId=1631287#articleId1631287)
Locally, two programs which offer support (Links Below). The Business Energy Rebates program which has a number of prescriptive incentives (fixed payment per specified upgrade) and the Community Energy Solutions Program which provides incentives customized to your situation up to $25,000. Both of these programs offer an opportunity to provide sets towards a more sustainable recreation facility.
Also available across North America specifically for Rinks is the NHL Group Discount Purchasing Program via Fastenal. This offers Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO) items at a group-discount price. It is ONLY available by signing up via the online portal but is then supported locally. For more information on that group program, please see www.nhl.com/info/fastenal . To sign up for the group discount program and leverage this discount buying program, please go to www.fasternal.com/hockey.
Remember to prioritize improvement spending towards anything that will reduce spending long-term. This will be an importance step towards continued sustainability of our needed recreation facilities.