SYLVAN LAKE — A rink worker escaped with moments to spare before the snow-laden roof of the Sylvan Lake Arena partially collapsed early on Monday.
An employee was driving a Zamboni when he heard cracking noises. He said instinct took over and hunched low behind the steering wheel as heavy debris came crashing down all around him.
The force of the collapse blew out an end wall of the arena, which was built by local volunteers and opened in 1972. It appears one of the main wooden trusses collapsed, pulling down a section of roof with it.
Arena operator Graham Parsons said he got a phone call from the rink worker about 12:30 a.m.
“He said, ‘Get down here. The rink fell down.’ ”
A women’s hockey team was last to use the ice, with their game finishing about 11 p.m. None were left in the arena when it collapsed.
Parsons said it was a sad end for the arena, which has been home to long-running hockey school and has hosted tens of thousands of youngsters over the years. The arena was due for demolition in a couple of years to make way for a new multiplex.
“You’d like to say goodbye to the old girl the proper way,” said Parsons, who has run the arena for 40 years. “It shouldn’t go unceremoniously like this.”
Parsons is now scrambling to find alternate ice times for the hockey players and other skaters who used the facility. Other communities have already offered time slots in their arenas.
“That’s what happens when something like this happens. It pulls the community together.”
Mayor Sean McIntyre said the loss of the arena is a blow to the community.
“There are a lot of heartbroken people in Sylvan Lake today,” he said. “We’ve had an icon, a landmark in our community, collapse.”
The town already has concept plans in place for a new multiplex with an arena that was to be built on the same site beginning in 2016.
“Obviously, in light of today’s events, we could see that move up.”
Ron Lebsack, Sylvan Lake’s director of community services, said the arena was inspected by engineers several years ago and was declared structurally sound.
“We were still hoping to get a couple of years out of it.”
It is believed that snow that had piled up on the roof was the likely cause of the collapse. Snow piled up to 1.5 metres deep could still be seen on one side of the curved Quonset hut-like roof.
The town recently cleared snow off a nearby curling rink and workers were going to tackle the arena in the next few days. There had been no indications of problems until just prior to the collapse.
Barriers have been set up around the arena and the adjacent multiplex will be closed for a couple of days because gas and electricity lines have been damaged.
It will be demolished in coming days or weeks.
Kaylene Kangas and four-year-old daughter Brooke came to see the damage for themselves on Monday morning.
“It’s pretty sad when it broke down,” said Brooke.
“Thank heavens nobody was hurt,” said Kaylene, as she surveyed the wreckage.
The same sentiment was echoed by Barbra Scott, who stopped to photograph the ruined arena as she walked her dog.
“Shocking” was how she described her first reaction on seeing the damage when she took her children to school earlier in the morning.
“They were lucky nobody was hurt.”