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UVic's Ian Stewart Complex to be replaced with housing

Facility includes an ice rink still used for skating and hockey, and an outdoor swimming pool that closed in 2015

The University of Victoria says it plans to close the Ian Stewart Complex on Gordon Head Road, which includes an ice rink and a now-closed outdoor swimming pool, to make way for a mixed-use development featuring housing and commercial uses.

UVic says it will keep the rink open until 2026 to give existing users enough time to switch to other venues.

The rink was built in 1970 and is well beyond its anticipated lifespan of 40 years, while the pool hasn’t been used since 2015.

The Victoria Racquet Club Kings Minor Hockey Association and the Racquet Club of Victoria Skating Club continue to use the rink, along with many recreational hockey players. The remainder of the building has some offices but is largely vacant.

Skating club director Deena Beacom said the rink is clearly aging, but the plans still came as a shock.

“We’re digesting it. We feel like we can figure something out,” she said. “I’m good at plan Bs and staying positive.”

The club, with a few hundred members ranging in age from two to 49, already makes use of other arenas like Pearkes and Westhills for some of its activities, but its size has tripled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beacom said. “We’ve had a really big surge.”

Ice time is already at a premium in the region, although there are rumours of a new rink being built in Saanich, said Beacom, who called the rink her “second home.”

She started at the complex as a skater about 40 years ago, and returned to Victoria after a professional skating career before becoming the skating club’s director in 2000.

Mike Wilson, UVic’s director of campus planning and sustainability, said redevelopment of the complex is in its early stages. The housing portion of the plan is envisioned as being for the larger community as well as people from the university, he said.

“It provides a bit more of a broader breadth for housing, which we think is a real positive.”

Wilson said the next steps include hiring an architect and engaging the community in the creation of a master plan for the site, which will need to be rezoned from athletic use.

The total site up for development is about 3.5 hectares, including the land where the former Velox rugby clubhouse sits across Gordon Head Road. The field there will remain.

“It’s a perfect spot in terms of its relation to the university campus,” Wilson said. “It’s on a major transit corridor. It’s within an area that Saanich wants to grow.”

The university has owned the facility since 1991, and named it in Ian Stewart’s honour in 2000. Stewart was a lawyer and businessman, a big supporter of UVic athletics and chairman of the board of governors when the complex was acquired.

It served as UVic’s main recreation centre from 1991 to 2015, when the Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities opened on campus and became home to most of the university’s athletic activities.

The complex started out as the Victoria Racquet Club in the 1960s and featured such offerings as squash, tennis, curling, figure skating, hockey and swimming, before being purchased by St. Michaels University School and then UVic.

Former NHL players Mel Bridgman and Russ and Geoff Courtnall are among the club’s alumni.

jbell@timescolonist.com