Park Board considers building artificial outdoor ice rinks

Another short skating season this winter is helping give traction at Park Board headquarters to a vision of building artificial, outdoor ice rinks around the city.

“I don’t think we’ve gotten five good years of skating out of the last 10,” Park Board Commissioner Walt Dziedzic said. “I don’t know if it’s global warming or what it is, but we’re not getting a lot of weeks of winter skating.”

He’d like to see the Park Board eventually build about half a dozen refrigerated, outdoor rinks that could be flooded and frozen even when temperatures are above freezing. The artificially chilled rinks could extend the city’s outdoor skating season from five weeks to five months, Dziedzic said.

It’s not the first time the idea has come up, but with inconsistent winters becoming a trend and the Park Board getting ready to write a comprehensive plan for the park system, the rinks are getting closer study.

“We’re getting serious about doing some research on it this year,” said Paul Hokeness, lakes area district manager for the Park Board.

The rinks would likely consist of a concrete base embedded with refrigeration pipes. The surface could be used for basketball or a picnic area in the summer, and once temperatures fell to about 40 degrees park staff could flip a switch to turn on the cooler and then flood the rink, Dziedzic said.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board currently maintains 30 outdoor skating rinks. In “a good Minnesota winter” they get about 10 weeks of use, Hokeness said. Warm weather prevented the rinks from being ready this year until mid-January, about a month behind schedule.

“We’re cutting the season short by two or three weeks it seems every year now,” Hokeness said.

By the third week in February, the sun is low enough in the sky that regardless of how cold the air is, a clear, sunny day is all it takes to start melting an outdoor rink.

“It’s just a lot of energy we put into making ice for such a short season,” Hokeness said.

And that work – putting up boards, pouring water, leveling ice – doesn’t decrease proportionally with a shorter season. Some rinks could be eliminated if each district had one larger, artificial rink, Dziedzic said.

Still, the cost of building them, or even just one, might make them out of the question. Dziedzic estimated it would take about $2 million to build one “if you do it right.” Hokeness guessed it would cost at least $1 million and go up depending on size and amenities.

“There’s nothing cheap about them,” Hokeness said. Then throw in lights, storage, a zamboni, and it might be beyond the Park Board’s budget, he said.

A formal proposal hasn’t been made to the Park Board, but Dziedzic said the idea was well received at a board retreat earlier this winter. Hokeness said staff has talked with some companies to try to get a sense of costs, but they’ve only been “checking around” for now.

South Minneapolis would be a prime area for the first rink, Dziedzic said, because Downtown and Northeast already have indoor rinks. He mentioned Pearl Park as a possibility. Armatage Park has also come up in conversations as a possible site, Recreation Director Jerry Peterson reported at January’s Armatage neighborhood meeting.

Hockey leagues book up much of the indoor rink availability, so the shorter outdoor seasons seem to affect the general public most, Peterson said. Artificial rinks might open more time for those skaters.

“It’d be nice because it seems like our weather has been changing. I don’t know if expense-wise if it’s something anyone can do, but it’s an exciting idea,” Peterson said.

 

Reach Dan Haugen at 436-5088 or dhaugen@mnpubs.com.