On May 4, the Jacksonville Ice & Sportsplex became the first ice rink in North America to re-open following the shutdown caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. Following the guidance of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, and in accordance with government-mandated safety protocols, the rink was re-opened to the public on a limited basis.
Following cleaning and sanitization, and the acquisition of necessary equipment and supplies, the NHL-size indoor rink re-opened with private hockey and figure skating lessons. The Adult Hockey League resumed play on Saturday, May 9, with the goal of finishing the winter season before Memorial Day. A week later, adult and youth hockey clinics and adult open hockey were added, with limits on the number of participants.
Excellent Public Response
According to Ice & Sportplex Owner/Executive Manager Mark Scheff “We have sold out all of these clinics through the end of the month. Stick and Puck and Open Hockey (with the same limitations) are well attended. Most reservations are being done through our online service.”
Public skating will resume on Memorial Day, but at 50% capacity. A Youth Hockey League Celebration is also scheduled for that day. The High School Hockey League and the Adult Hockey League Summer Season are scheduled to begin by the end of the month.
Scheff said 88% of the players in the Adult Hockey League “couldn’t wait to get back on the ice to complete the season.” (That 88% approval rate in Jacksonville corresponds well with an 85% positive response to a survey about resuming hockey June 15 by the Ice Box Skating Rink, which serves northwest Indiana and southwest Michigan.) He also said “Players and staff have adjusted well to the new policies and procedures and are willing a few inconveniences if it means they can play the game they like in a safe environment.”
Safety Measures are a “Must”
According to the Jacksonville Ice & Sportsplex website, safety measures in place include:
- Implementation of a Temperature Measurement System using thermal cameras required of all who enter the building.
- Face covering requirement for all employees including coaches and referees.
- At this time we are not requiring our guests to wear face coverings, however we urge all our patrons to do so while in common areas and where social distancing is difficult.
- Masks will not be provided by the facility.
- Extra time has been added between all programming to limit the number of people in the facility.
- Limitations on non-participant admission.
- Additional staff have been added to ensure sanitizing high traffic areas and surfaces before, during and after usage throughout the day and night.
- All areas and surfaces within the facility have been cleaned and sanitized with approved equipment and disinfectants to kill the coronavirus.
- This sanitization includes, but is not limited to, the front desk, rental skates, floors, doors, bleachers, rink glass and boards, benches and penalty boxes, locker rooms, showers and restrooms.
- Hand sanitation stations are available in all common areas.
According to Scheff, quite a bit of planning and consultation was necessary to develop the safety protocols. “I have been in contact with Ice Rinks throughout the US and Canada (not to mention The Netherlands) and we have shared policies and procedures.”
Lessons Learned (and Shared)
Scheff says the greatest lesson learned was to prepare well in advance of a scheduled re-opening date. “Keep in mind we are all looking for the same answers and if it means purchasing equipment and supplies, you need to be prepared for long lead times. I had to wait four weeks for a sanitizing fogger as an example. Gaitors, masks, temperature taking devices, electronic whistles and some sanitizing supplies are sold out and back ordered.”
He says that cooperation among participants has been very good. “Our patrons have been extremely compliant with our Public safety protocols. There has been no significant pushback.
If anything, they all appreciate the effort we have made to maintain a safe environment for them to play. We understand returning is a personal choice and that some may not be ready to return. The majority have.”
Here are his Top 5 Lessons Learned for a successful resumption of hockey and skating operations:
- Communication – Keep your customers informed. They appreciate transparency and are more likely to be compliant with the new rules.
- Clean & sanitize the facility – The cleanliness must be obvious and palpable to the public from the moment they walk in the door.
- Provide staff with the necessary PPE & require their use – Retraining of staff will be required. There is a new “muscle memory” they will need to adjust to.
- Temperature stations at entry points – These have given the public a sense of security and reflect the seriousness we are taking their safety.
- Leave extra time between programming to assist with gathering guidelines – It helps keep the number of people in building manageable.
Scheff says he hopes the lessons learned in re-opening the Jacksonville Ice & Sportsplex will provide a solid blueprint for other facilities. “I hope this helps rink around the US and Canada get open sooner rather than later.”
Pete Bauer is both a hockey fan and player. As a columnist for The Hockey Writers, he covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, NCAA hockey, and NHL trends, statistics, and history. He is also the author of over a dozen books on photography, digital imaging, and graphics, including “Photoshop CC for Dummies.”