With a new season of winter activities already underway, work is continuing at the Whitney Forum to make it easier for people to come in and watch.
The City of Flin Flon is expanding accessibility for the Forum to meet modern requirements, including adding a new platform for people with mobility issues to be seated (as well as a VIP area) during events like concerts or Bomber games.
That platform is located in section B on the rink’s east side, near the main entrance, spanning two sections of seats. Plans are already in the works to expand the platform for later seasons, building up a further accessible area towards the stairs by the souvenir booth.
“The plan moving forward is we’re going to build a new platform all the way down to there and we’re going to put one row of seating with a lot of room in front of the box for people with mobility issues and walkers to be able to sit here - it’ll be our active aging area, where we will have accessible seating only,” said City of Flin Flon recreation director Andrew Smith.
“I’m really excited for this. This is a fantastic idea,” added Whitney Forum manager Les Taylor.
Part of the platform can be set aside as a VIP area or for vendors or sponsors - at the Bombers’ Sept. 25 home opener, the spot was used as a staging area for a booth for Original 16 Brewery, an SJHL sponsor.
The changes aren’t only limited to the new platform. Smith said the City plans to remodel the Forum’s entrance to allow wheelchair users easier access to the rink, including redoing the concrete pad outside the entrance for ease of access and installing automatic doors. The City will not be completing those projects this season.
“The entrance is something that we see as important, so we’re hoping to make changes with the actual entrance itself, but that won’t be any time soon,” said Smith.
Other future plans will include remodelling the bathrooms on the Forum’s southern side to make them handicap-accessible. Yellow paint has been laid down on the edge of the arena’s maroon and grey steps, so anyone with visual impairments can easily spot where one stair ends and prevent falls. Through a federal grant, the City has also hired workers to check people’s vaccination cards or status on entry, as per current health orders.
Smith and City officials have plans to remodel other parts of the rink later to aid accessibility, pending funding or emergencies.
“This is our main priority right now, ensuring that the population feels welcome here. That’s the biggest thing. It’s not an afterthought - it’s right at the top of our list,” Smith said.
The Forum, which opened 63 years ago, doesn’t provide much room for accessibility upgrades. One of the biggest accessibility blind spots for the rink - access to the arena lobby and concession, which is only accessible through four staircases with no ramps - is partially set to be addressed, but won’t be immediately.
“We are looking to install a lift on one of the staircases - the issue is that it is super visible,” said Smith, mentioning that a stair lift could be vandalized or damaged by non-users.
“We’re focusing on the rink to make it more accessible there, then the lobby will be in time.”
In the meantime, visitors using the accessibility seating will be able to order food or refreshments from the concession remotely and have food taken up to the booth, Smith said.