Council looks at ice arena issues again

by Kurt Nesbitt
Contributing Writer
City officials want to address issues with Elk River’s aging ice arena but are again struggling with how they might pay for those improvements and how an expansion of the existing facility might impact school properties nearby.

On Aug. 7, the Elk River City Council chewed on the issue during discussion of a proposal brought by city staff to look at renovation and expansion proposals of the existing facility. Council members and city staff explored ways the city could arrange to pay for the renovation, which the city’s referendum materials estimated at $10 million to $12 million.

City Administrator Cal Portner repeatedly stressed during the council discussion that the “Barn” ice arena, built in 1972, is badly in need of repairs. Council Members Matt Westgaard and Jennifer Wagner said they support the effort, calling it “appropriate” and “the next logical step,” but Mayor John Dietz said he has lots of concerns about the cost, which he estimated at a total of $25 million. He said Monday night he supported seeking renovation proposals because those would give an indication of how much the project would cost. Dietz said twice during the discussion that he isn’t above asking for another referendum.

Voters defeated a $30 million referendum in January that would have issued bonds to pay for a new community center, which would have included an ice rink as well as park improvements. The council sought the referendum after it received a commissioned feasibility study of the city’s ice arenas, senior center and Lions Park Center. The study focused on renovation, replacement or consolidation of those three facilities and recommended the city put all three of them together in one location.