Ice time curtailed?

Published 8:44 am Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The second sheet of ice at Albert Lea's City Arena is slated to be closed in 2012 during the summer as a maintenance and cost-saving measure. -- Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

Come summer, the city of Albert Lea may close the second sheet of ice at City Arena.

Discussion about the rink emerged during budget discussions between city leaders and Parks and Recreation Department staff, who are in the middle of planning 2012 budgets.

Kevin Dulitz, past president of the Albert Lea Hockey Association, said it would be unfortunate to close the ice because that sheet allows for summer hockey camps and recreational skating in warm months. However, Dulitz said upkeep and maintenance costs money.

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“The city needs to make sure the ice is functioning properly and the facilities are up-to-date,” Dulitz said. “We just hope that the maintenance they need to do can be done in a short period of time and get the ice up as soon as possible.”

Dulitz said rather than close the rink he would prefer allowing city staff to conduct maintenance during the summer.

However, if finances don’t allow for that, the hockey association and the local Convention and Visitors Bureau staff would like to have further talks with the city to find out the financial need, Dulitz said.

Parks and Recreation Director Jay Hutchison said the sheet has been in place for eight or nine years without being taken out. He said part of the decision to remove the sheet is for maintenance purposes, to allow staff to check on the floor underneath.

But part of the decision is also for cost savings.

“In this time of budgets where we have to cut, that’s one of the things we’re looking at,” Hutchison said.

He estimated it would save the city at least $30,000. It will also give the city a baseline estimate for what the utility costs are for each rink.

He anticipated the ice would be taken out towards the end of February or first part of March and would be put back by mid-August to ensure two rinks for hockey season.

“I know it’s going to be hard on some groups and some people,” Hutchison said. “We appreciate people at least working with us this year. What happens in years to come is still to be determined.”

He noted that the ice should come out every two to three years.

However, some say it will be a setback to young players wanting to develop their skills without driving a long way.

“I’m very disappointed because realistically this is the only ice our players get during the off-season,” said Albert Lea boys’ hockey coach Roy Nystrom. “Many of the hockey summer camps far away cost a lot of money.”

Nystrom is also an organizer of one of at least three summer hockey camps that take place on the second sheet of ice.

“It’s going to put a damper in our program, there’s no doubt about it,” Nystrom said.

He noted ever since the second sheet of ice has been in place there have been summer camps in town.

Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Susie Petersen said at the Americas Best Value Inn alone, summer hockey camps bring in almost 260 rooms of tenants, averaging about $18,000 in room rentals.