Janesville59.3°

Ice arena repairs would top $1 million

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
March 8, 2009
— Janesville residents should brace themselves to spend up to $1.5 million at the ice arena in the next five years, regardless of whether the council approves the $200,0000 to bring a hockey team here.

The council originally was scheduled to approve a deal with Wisconsin Hockey Partners on Monday. That vote, however, has been delayed until March 23.


The $200,000 would build the team a locker room and office space, which the team would rent from the city. It also would improve the concession stand, the sound system and the heating.


Since discussion on the hockey team started, some have asked:


-- Does it make sense to put $200,000 into an aging facility that needs up to $1.5 million of renovations in the future?


-- Should the city discuss building a new facility? Costs for a new facility start at $1.5 million.


-- Would the community support a new facility, especially in this economy?


-- And even if questions are asked, does the community have time to answer them? The latest council delay already could cut into Wisconsin Hockey Partners' recruitment season.


In a recent interview, council member George Brunner said people have suggested to him that the city build a new ice arena if it is going to continue to have one.


The current building needs roof repairs, and the refrigeration system that makes the ice is running on borrowed time.


"We've been able to either salvage parts from different places in order to fix it and keep it working or put some type of patch on it," Brunner said.


"However … I would hesitate to look at building a new arena under the current economic conditions."


White elephant

The rink has a controversial history. Some viewed it as a white elephant when it was built in 1975.


The city in 1977 leased the arena to a private company to avoid paying subsidies. But the city took over management again in 2001 when the company went bankrupt.


At the time, then City Manager Steve Sheiffer urged the community to regard the arena as a recreational facility and not a business. The biggest mistake would be to expect the facility to make money, he said.


In 2008, the city's subsidy was $85,000. But the city also subsidizes other recreation, said Eric Levitt, the new city manager.


Council members asked at the council's last meeting for a list of potential repairs needed at the ice rink.


Levitt, who started here in December, was at a disadvantage to answer some questions about the ice rink because he is so new. Most of the plans to renovate the ice arena and the agreement with Wisconsin Hockey Partners were almost complete when he arrived.


The council met in its first closed session about the hockey team in July, and a meeting with some ice arena user groups was held in September. Specifics weren't released to the community until January.


A good question

Whether the city should spend more than $1 million on an aging facility or build a new one is a good question, Levitt said. But that brings up the issue of community support for an ice arena. Levitt doesn't see any momentum for a new building at this time.


Levitt doesn't know if all the questions can be answered within the time frame required by the needs of Wisconsin Hockey Partners. He believes the $200,000 in remodeling for the team could be done separate from replacing the refrigeration system. He doesn't think they would be much cheaper if done together.


"The issue is—the concern I have is—if you do these improvements and two years later build a new facility, could that be perceived as wasting that $200,000?"


Brunner said he wants the council and public to be aware that there will be substantial dollars spent in the future for maintenance.


"We're in a situation where we've delayed maintenance on facilities such as the ice arena in order to make budgets balance and provide other services," he said.


"We're going to reach a point where we're going to have to do some of that maintenance."



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