City will study condition of old ice arena, cost to fix it

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

The condition of the old Elk River Ice Arena and what it would cost to fix it will be the subject of a study authorized by the Elk River City Council.

Council members discussed the matter March 19, and voted 5-0 to spend $7,080 on a value engineering study. The study will look at a number of things including the roof, structure and HVAC systems in the old arena, known as the Barn. The Barn was built in 1971.

The Elk River Ice Arena, located at 1000 School St., is made up of the Barn and a newer Olympic-sized sheet of ice.

“With the age of the Barn and major renovations that are likely to be faced in the next few years, the question is whether the city would be better served to demolish the Barn and reconstruct a new building rather than continue with the increasingly expensive repairs,” Elk River Ice Arena Manager Rich Czech wrote in a memo to the City Council.

Some council members, however, expressed little interest in building a new sheet of ice without participation from other entities like the Elk River Area School District and Elk River Youth Hockey Association.

The school board has said it is not interested in sharing the costs of a replacement arena and youth hockey has not yet committed to sharing costs of a replacement facility, according to Czech.

Council Member Paul Motin wondered about possibly getting rid of the Barn altogether.

“I’m not recommending that, but it’s frustrating that the school’s not stepping up yet they’re the ones who want it,” Motin said, noting that youth hockey also hasn’t committed.

“Maybe we need to go down to one big sheet of ice and they’ll have to go elsewhere,” he said, adding that he didn’t know if that was the wisest idea.

Council Member Jerry Gumphrey, who sits on the Elk River Ice Arena Commission, said the commission wants to determine what is wrong with the Barn and what kind of investment would need to be made in it.

“At that time, we’ll make a recommendation to the Council on what we think we need to do as far as keeping the Barn operating or not operating,” Gumphrey said.

Council Member Nick Zerwas said youth hockey and the school district are the two main entities who need the second sheet of ice.

“We can do our community rec programs and everything we need to do with one sheet of ice,” Zerwas said.

He said it’s “pretty troubling” that the major users of the arena aren’t willing to come to the table.

Mayor John Dietz agreed it’s a good idea to see what it would cost to repair the Barn.

If the Barn is in its last years, he said the City Council will have to make a hard decision whether to tear it down and have only one sheet of ice in Elk River or look at another alternative.

“If people keep shutting the doors on us I don’t know how they expect us to take this on,” he said of replacing the Barn.

Council Member Matt Westgaard believes the two biggest users of the arena are youth hockey and city recreation, followed by the skating club and the high school.

He doesn’t disagree that the major users have to partner to make a project go forward. But he also pointed out that the city spends a lot of money on parks, ballfields, lights and other amenities for other programs.

The study is the right approach so the city can know what the costs are and evaluate if a renovation of the Barn makes sense, Westgaard said.

The Barn has had ongoing roof issues for several years. In addition, the ice-making plants for both ice sheets use a refrigerant which is being phased out in 2020, Czech said in his memo.

The engineering study will be done by four different companies and include study of the Barn’s roof, structure and HVAC system and its ancillary equipment to estimate the cost of repairs and the remaining lifespan of the building. The Elk River Ice Arena Commission has also identified a need to complete locker room improvements in the newer arena.