District 728 passes on arena project

by Jim Boyle

The Elk River Area School District will not be helping the city of Elk River renovate its ice arena.

The Elk River Area School Board and Elk River City Council had discussed a possible partnership earlier this year at a joint meeting, but school board members agreed at one of their recent work sessions that this wasn’t the time or the project to partner on with the city.

“We want to continue to collaborate, but this is not the type of project,” Superintendent Mark Bezek said as discussion on the matter wrapped up.

School board members expressed concern about the precedent set with contributing to the construction of a sheet of ice or arena renovations.

They also cautioned that it would limit the district’s ability to do something else that would be more in line with its mission.

The school district and the city had previously talked about a partnership that would have included a major arena renovation and field house for the high school, but board members indicated that was a different type of project.

The Elk River Ice Arena  is owned by the city and located at 1000 School St., next door to Elk River High School.

There are two sheets of ice in the facility. The older part of the arena is “the Barn,” which was built in 1971. The newer part has an Olympic-sized sheet of ice that was built in 1997.

The debt on the Olympic sheet has been paid off early, and the city is considering whether to renovate “the Barn” or demolish it and build a new sheet of ice 200 by 85 feet in size.

Leaving just the Olympic rink, demolishing the rest and building new would cost an estimated $8.1 million, according to Ice Arena Manager Rich Czech.

The payments would be an estimated $650,000 a year over 20 years, compared to the $200,000 a year the city is paying now to retire the debt on the Olympic sheet of ice.

User groups — youth hockey, figure skating club, boys and girls booster clubs and the school district — have been approached to see if they could contribute to the project.