Seven rinks to close

The Park Board voted Nov. 6 to close five ice rinks and the Armatage speed skating track — and to eliminate some full-time jobs and replace them with seasonal workers — to save $290,000.

The Board’s vote cuts a number of full-time Park Keeper jobs, said Jim Fagrelius, director of park operations. Those workers staff the warming houses and maintain the ice sheets during the winter and have other duties during the rest of the year. They make roughly $20 an hour, plus benefits.

The Park Board will use seasonal Park Maintenance Workers to do some of the Park Keepers’ job during the rest of the year, he said. Seasonal workers make $10 to $11 an hour with no health benefits.

The projected ice rink savings represents the net gain from eliminating full-time jobs and adding back seasonal help.

The Park Board would not lay off staff, said Michael Schmidt, assistant superintendent for operations. As people retire, it would leave positions vacant.

The ice rink closing is the first in what could be several program cuts to meet 2003 budget targets. The ice rink decision came first because the Park Board is making staffing decisions for winter recreation.

Closing the Lake Harriet and Keewaydin Park rinks — coupled with the elimination of full-time jobs, closing Lake Harriet and Keewaydin Park rinks would save $72,700 each through 2003, according to Park Board estimates.

The other staff savings are:

$37,800 for closing the Armatage speed skating rink;

$46,600 each for closing rinks at Peavey and Loring parks, which have smaller skating surfaces;

Less than $10,000 for closing Holmes Park ice rink, which does not have a warming house.

The board will also save $3,200 on its water bill by closing the rinks. It is relocating the Weber Park hockey rink, a change that saves no money.

Several residents of the 4000 block of Queen Avenue South attended the Park Board meeting and asked the board to keep the Lake Harriet rink open.

Susanne Rosen said skating on the lake was part of the history and family life of the neighborhood. "Generations have skated there," she said.

Park Board President Bob Fine questioned the wisdom of closing the Lake Harriet rink, since putting ice sheets on parkland did heavy damage to playing fields. The Board should consider moving more rinks onto lakes, he said.

Rosen, Kathyrn and Bill Brink and Carla O’Brien spoke to Superintendent Mary Merrill Anderson after the vote and inquired about getting volunteers to staff the Lake Harriet skating rink or holding a fundraiser to pay for staff to keep it going.

The board voted to review the ice rink decision on an annual basis.

Emergency phones near creek now on

Two "blue light" emergency phones along Minnehaha Creek in the Lynnhurst neighborhood were switched on in October, said Park Board spokeswoman Emily Ero-Phillips.

The Lynnhurst Neighborhood Association paid $29,000 for the phones, one located near the Bryant Avenue Bridge and one near the recreational building, she said. The Park Board has three other neighborhood-funded emergency phones around Lake Calhoun, installed in 1995.

The Park Police monitor the phones to assure they are working. Calls from the phones go to the 911 Center.

"It is still a pilot program for the Park Board," Ero-Phillips said.

The city has similar phones along the Midtown Greenway.