City takes over control of Merritt arena

By on December 6, 2017
The Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. (Herald files).


Expect to see the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena used more in the offseason as the City of Merritt gets set to assume maintenance operations of the facility in 2018.

Arena operations will change hands beginning next month as the city has hired a new manager to replace the retiring Brian Barrett, whose company Merritt Arena Sports has maintained the facility via contract for decades.

David Zakall, who has worked at the arena for 20 years, has been hired as the next arena manager. The new municipal manager position comes with a salary of $85,000 per year.

The city is now also looking to hire three workers for the arena in addition to Zakall.

For years Merritt Arena Sports has operated the arena for the city, which extended its contract until the end of the year when it expired in September.

That contract was also upped from $18,000 per month to $20,000 and a clause added for the owner and the city to work on a transition plan these past four months.

Boven said the city extended the contract because it didn’t have a solid plan in place to assume operations.

The city recently parted ways with its latest recreation and facilities manager, Lee Nelles, who was working on the transition process.

Boven said that in Nelles absence he has been working with Zakall on the transition plan, which involves putting together job postings and training the new hires. Those job postings are expected to close Dec. 22, Boven said.

The city decided to take over operations because Barrett is retiring, said Boven.

“He’s been there 30-some years and the gentleman would like to retire,” said Boven. “He’s been trying to retire for a while now.”

Barrett, who has managed the arena since the mid-80s, will still be an integral part of the Merritt Centennials — the main user group of the building.

“I’m a governor and director of hockey operations,” Barrett said. “I’m going to stay involved with the hockey club and just after Dec. 31 take a little bit of time to relax and then I fully intend to stay involved —probably moreso with the marketing of the hockey club.”

Under the maintenance contract, Barrett’s company most recently employed himself and two full-time workers along with three or four part-time positions, he said.

Barrett said he thinks Zakall’s hiring was a good decision on the city’s part.

“He knows the building and knows the operation well, and I’m sure he’s excited about taking over,” said Barrett.

He also said the city must make sure they have people in place that have the proper qualifications.

“As far as operation of an ammonia facility you must have a certain number of people that do have their refrigeration operators certificate. I’m sure that will be part of their priorities,” said Barrett.

The Nicola Valley Memorial Arena uses ammonia in its refrigeration system.

Boven said he envisions the arena being available for more uses than it has been in the past now that the city is operating it directly.

“We’d like to see it used more in the offseason months for different events,” Boven said, noting ball hockey or dances as possibilities.

“I think when the ice is off it’s, for the most part, shut down for four months, so we’d like to make it more available for community use,” said Boven.

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