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My turn: A new ice rink for the Mendenhall Valley

Posted: July 31, 2012 - 11:03pm

Through hard work by Representative Cathy Munoz and friends in the Legislature, Juneau is poised to receive a new skating rink in the Mendenhall Valley. Now, the buzz around town is whether our community needs and can afford another rink.

Juneau, with 30,000+ residents, should move forward with this opportunity. The new Valley rink will be heavily used and will not be built with CBJ sales or property taxes. Managed right, the new rink will not require a local government subsidy to operate.

Last legislative session, Cathy Munoz was instrumental in obtaining an appropriation to start building the new rink at Dimond Park. The new rink, expected to cost $6.5 million, would be built in a manner similar to the highly successful Field House located at Dimond Park by the Juneau Community Foundation.

In 2007 the Juneau Community Foundation teamed up with the City and Borough of Juneau and numerous community members and businesses such as Wells Fargo who donated their time and services, to construct the Dimond Park Field House. The facility’s operating expenses of approximately $175,000 per year are paid for by a combination of hourly fees, business sponsorships, and individual donations. As a result of volunteer efforts, the Field House has been able to stay within budget which enables the facility to offer rates much lower that that of other sport complexes. The new Valley rink can follow this tried-and-true path to success.

The CBJ would provide property for the rink at Dimond Park but construction and operations would not require CBJ funding. We’ve heard gripes around town that Juneau doesn’t need another rink -- complaints that are similar to the carping when the first rink was built in Douglas back in 2003.

A rink in the Valley will well serve school age populations, increase figure skating and recreational skating, give roller sports an additional outlet and facilitate an ice hockey program at Thunder Mountain High School (TMHS). A rink in the Valley will increase recreational opportunities for many residents of our community and significantly improve convenient scheduling of ice and roller sports.

There are residents who claim funds for a rink should be spent on other projects. The argument here is that there is a better use for state dollars. Of course, depending on who you ask, priorities for public spending vary, but in the end, the Legislature has offered a splendid gift to our community. The issue now is will we accept the gift?

The addition of a new rink in the Valley will not end the successful operations at the Treadwell Rink in Douglas. With care in scheduling, two rinks could well serve our entire community in a better and cost-efficient manner. At a recent public hearing on July 17, a wide variety of actual and potential user groups spoke enthusiastically about how a Valley rink could enhance recreational and athletic activities.

Conspicuously absent at the July 17 meeting where the new Valley rink was discussed were representatives from the Juneau School District (JSD). JSD’s failure to attend and provide input was unfortunate. When asked to provide a location for the rink in Dimond Park, CBJ staff mentioned multiple requests for space at Dimond Park, foremost among them being space for TMHS ball fields. At this point, the JSD and the CBJ appear to lack focus and do not have specifics related to the proposed TMHS ball fields. Top-ranking officials from the CBJ and JSD seemed flummoxed by where to put a new rink and unable decide on where to build a fantastic new recreation and athletic facility for our community.

Juneau is on the threshold of obtaining a second rink from the Legislature. A new rink will enhance current operations at the existing Treadwell Arena. A new rink will allow Juneau to host the Arctic Winter Games and increase hockey tournament play by teams from out-of-town. A new rink will facilitate an increase in figure skating, recreational skating and ice hockey. With a little bit of coordination between the CBJ and the Juneau School District, the Juneau Community Foundation can move forward with this opportunity, just like they did with the Field House in the Valley -- a project that has been a great benefit to all who call this place home.

• Joe Geldhof is an aging ice hockey player of marginal talent, a retired ice hockey official and helped the Douglas Fourth of July Committee’s efforts to build the Treadwell Arena. Tom Rutecki is a long-time coach and sports booster in Juneau; he was instrumental in establishing the Juneau-Douglas ice hockey program.

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