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Assemblymembers want more information on rink study

Foundation has asked city to operate proposed facility

Posted: October 29, 2012 - 9:12pm  |  Updated: October 30, 2012 - 12:02am

City Manager Kim Kiefer received direction from the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole Monday night to bring back more information at a future meeting on a possible study to determine the feasibility of a new, city-operated ice arena.

The Juneau Community Foundation, a nonprofit organization to which $650,000 was appropriated by the Alaska State Legislature this year for planning and study of an ice rink in Dimond Park, requested that the CBJ consider operating the facility.

President Eric Kueffner of the JCF told the Assemblymembers that his organization, while willing to act as a “conduit” for the funds and manage the construction, does not have the capacity to staff and run an ice rink.

“We are a small nonprofit with one part-time employee,” Kueffner said. “We can’t manage a facility once it’s started. … We wanted to assure ourselves that the city was willing to explore alternatives and ways to operate and manage this facility, because the Community Foundation is really not prepared to take it on as an ongoing, continuing project.”

Brent Fischer, director of Juneau Parks and Recreation, estimated he has personally spent more than 300 hours studying the practicability of a second rink at Dimond Park and how practical it would be for the CBJ to assume management of it. Parks and Recreation has held two public meetings to gather ideas (http://bit.ly/RkIShx).

But Fischer told the committee that with use of the existing Treadwell Ice Arena in decline and cost recovery at just 49 percent in fiscal year 2012, he does not see a new city rink as feasible.

“The demand just does not indicate a current need for an additional sheet of ice,” Fischer said. Based on Treadwell’s cost recovery, he added, “The CBJ just cannot afford it.”

Assemblymember Randy Wanamaker thanked Fischer, saying, “I think it’s very important that an assessment be as open and frank as possible — realistic — and it certainly sounds that way.”

Fischer’s assessment came in spite of several emails and letters from members of the public, some of whom suggested using energy savings or non-city labor to save on operating costs, expressing support for a new sheet of ice. Those letters were included in a packet distributed to assemblymembers and available to members of the public at the Committee of the Whole worksession.

After Wanamaker spoke, Mayor Merrill Sanford said he would like to see part of the $650,000 appropriation be used for an independent feasibility study.

“I think that that’s part of the package of that $650,000 that was assigned to all this, is to do that analysis,” Sanford said. “I know that we’ve done our own within house. I think it’s only fair that we do an independent-type one and look at all the pros and cons of doing this, and coming back and then looking at that information and basing our decision on not only our preliminary information that we have from our staff, but also from an independent group.”

Wanamaker agreed that a study should be done independently, but warned that a comprehensive study would have a lot of components, could be very expensive and would demand staff time in determining what should be examined.

Assemblymember Johan Dybdahl said he thought the Assembly would require additional information on the feasibility of operating another rink before making any sort of a commitment.

“It seems to me that any real action by the Assembly at this time … is premature,” Dybdahl said. “We won’t be able to make that decision unless we get that information. … I think the best we can do at this point, or should do, is simply outline the kind of information that we think we need in order to make a decision about managing such a facility after it were to be built.”

While Assemblymember Jesse Kiehl said he is sympathetic to user groups that have sought more available ice (http://bit.ly/S90sFS), he noted that the legislative appropriation is specifically marked for study of a Dimond Park location, thereby preventing the use of that money to study whether expanding Treadwell would be more cost-effective.

“I think it would be worth it … to look at more than one potential site and see if we can find that if a second sheet is justified, what’s the most efficient way to do it?” Kiehl said.

The Legislature has not yet committed to appropriating more money to the project beyond the $650,000 planning and design grant, which Dybdahl mentioned as he expressed skepticism of a CBJ commitment.

“I don’t know that we should use any part of that $650,000 even to do a study,” said Dybdahl. “Even if we get it complete, there’s still the matter of seeking funding for construction.”

Dybdahl also brought up the specter of negative effects for Treadwell similar to the decline in usage that Augustus Brown Swimming Pool has seen since the construction of the Dimond Park Aquatic Center, noting Fischer’s statistics showing an overall trend downward in Treadwell’s number of users from its mid-2000s peak.

“If you build the sheet out at Mendenhall, surely the Treadwell will be in further decline,” Dybdahl said, adding, “I just have a hard time even making that first step.”

According to Fischer’s presentation, cost recovery at Augustus Brown has fallen from 40 percent to less than 24 percent since DPAC was built.

Asked by Wanamaker for a summary of what Kiefer had heard so far, Kiefer said it was a “mixed bag.”

“Just looking at what we have at … Treadwell, trying to make up the difference of $380,000 in fund subsidy, I don’t know how we can do that,” said Kiefer, referring to the $378,066 difference in FY12 between Treadwell’s profits and its expenditures that the city must make up. “But if you feel you need an outside entity to come in and look at it, and look at all those pieces, I can sit down with Eric and whomever else from the Juneau Community Foundation, come up with a scope of work, bring it back to you and say, ‘Does this cover what you need?’ knowing that there’s going to be a … big piece of it that city has to keep being involved with, and that will take the priority of Engineering staff, Parks and Rec staff, and potentially others.”

When Sanford offered a motion to direct Kiefer to bring back a basic request for proposal “to move forward with an analysis” to the Assembly and asked for unanimous consent, several assemblymembers objected.

“I want to be sure that in this whole process, that we’re going to look at something that includes looking at Treadwell, and if we are, then I want to see a portion outside of the funds that would be expended on just Dimond,” said Dybdahl. “I’d like to see that as part of that report or request for proposal.”

Kiefer said she could work with the JCF on how expensive it would be to study a second sheet of ice elsewhere, to which Dybdahl agreed.

Assemblymember Karen Crane still objected. She said Kiefer should be directed to gather information only, not put together a request for proposal.

“We’re not developing an RFP. You’re only information-gathering at this point and listing what information the city would have to have. That’s it,” Crane said.

When Sanford affirmed Crane’s statement, she said, “Then I don’t have an objection.”

Wanamaker assented, saying, “Because we’re only developing information at this point, I withdraw my objection.”

With the clarifications noted, the motion carried with unanimous consent.

The location of a second sheet of ice has been a source of contention in recent months, with proponents of a Valley rink expressing enthusiasm over the legislative grant and some others arguing that a second rink should be added onto Treadwell instead (http://bit.ly/TkESxj).

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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