Ice rinks prove costly when winters are warm

The Park Board spent $1.34 million to flood and maintain rinks at 23 parks last winter.

A Park Board worker floods a Minneapolis ice rink in 2010 Credit: Dylan Thomas

For many, a Minneapolis winter wouldn’t be complete without a twirl around the neighborhood ice rink.

But when Minnesota winters get warm — as they have in recent years — the Park Board spends a pretty penny keeping flat ice available for residents, even though rinks are usually open for less than two months.

Take last winter, for example. The Park Board spent $1.34 million to flood and maintain rinks at 23 parks. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many days the rinks were open, but warm weather delayed the opening of most rinks to early January, and most were closed by Feb. 21.

That equates to six or seven weeks of ice skating at a cost of roughly $1,200 per day, per park. It cost about $58,000 a season to maintain each ice skating location in the city, though some can cost more than others.

At least one resident is wondering if it’s time for the Park Board to re-think it’s ice rink policy.

Another warm start to winter meant that the Linden Hills Park rinks weren’t open until early January this year, and neighbor Dan Benson took note.

Benson, a 20-year resident of the neighborhood, has usually been supportive of the local rinks, but in recent winters he has watched as the seasons have been so abbreviated it seems as though by the time the hockey boards are up, they’re coming back down.

 “Year after year they send their crews to build the rink regardless of the conditions and regardless of how long their efforts will last,” he said. “I would like to see the (Park Board) practice some common sense, saving the water and redirecting their manpower into other areas.”

According to Park Board press releases, most ice rinks over the past three years have stayed open for six, seven and nine weeks, respectively.

On Jan. 11, the Park Board had to close rinks because of near-40 degree temperatures and heavy rain.

Park Board Commissioner Anita Tabb said the issue is worth looking into, but also noted that she and the Park Board get more requests to open new rinks than to close rinks.

“Over time, if we continue to have these sorts of weather patterns, we definitely need to re-evaluate our strategy,” Tabb said. “But this is Minnesota, and I think Minnesota does have an outdoor and winter skating tradition. Is that something we want to lose or is it part of our DNA?”

Ice rink use goes beyond just casual skaters. The city’s rinks are used by 300 broomball teams, 40 youth hockey teams and six pond hockey teams. Those groups total 5,200 participants.

Broomball and pond hockey leagues generated about $93,000 for the Park Board last year.

In 2002, the Park Board closed seven rinks, including the one at Lake Harriet and the Armatage speed skating rink— saving about $290,000 annually.

In 2007, then-Park Board Commissioner Walt Dziedzic suggested opening a half-dozen refrigerated rinks in order to extend the season, saying “I don’t think we’ve gotten five good years of skating out of the last 10.”

According to Park Board commissioners and staff, residents generally ask for more investment in ice rinks.

“At this point, I fully hear from people that ‘we want ice, we want expanded hours, better quality,’ and that kind of thing, so I feel at this point we’re being responsive to the residents we hear from,” said Lisa Beck, the Park Board’s director of asset management.