January 17, 2013 | Volume 43, No.2

Skaters mull improved, moved ice rink

A grant opportunity recently renewed the efforts of a local volunteer organization to move the ice rink from the fairgrounds to downtown, but board members are hitting the brake on the initiative, at least for now.

Until Tuesday evening, Haines Hockey board members intended to bring the issue before the Haines Borough Assembly in the form of a resolution during its Jan. 22 meeting.

Board member Daymond Hoffman said the group became aware of a $125,000 state recreation grant opportunity, which would have to be matched by and applied for through the borough. Hoffman said the group was hoping the borough would fulfill a portion of its share of the grant by devoting a parcel of land to the project.  

“It’s all quite rushed and we’re not certain that the borough is going to be excited about putting the hockey rink on borough land so we just decided to wait,” said board member Greg Schlachter.

Board member Brad Ryan had been drafting the resolution and working with borough manager Mark Earnest on the details and language.

Schlachter, Ryan, and Hoffman met Tuesday evening and decided not to try to advance the issue to make the Feb. 1 grant deadline. Paul Wheeler is also a board member.

The issue was also scheduled under “new business” for the Jan. 17 planning commission meeting, but Ryan said the item would be pulled from the commission’s agenda.

In addition to some assembly members expressing lukewarm opinions on the matter, there are differing attitudes among board members on where the rink would be located and whether it should be moved at all.

Hoffman said he personally would prefer the rink to be located downtown, but that “we’re not all on the same page.” Hoffman also said the board has kicked around potential locations including the old primary school lot and the parcel of land near the library.

Ryan said assembly members and individuals have raised questions about the potential move to downtown, such as what the economic benefits would be, where public facilities such as bathrooms would be located, and where users would park.

Assembly member Debra Schnabel said she raised such questions with Schlachter and asked for a meeting with all the involved parties, but a group meeting never materialized. Schnabel said she supports the borough putting money into an ice rink, but can’t yet get behind the idea of developing a new rink downtown when the existing rink could be improved.

Ryan said the main priority of the group – and what every board member can come to a consensus about – is getting a rink with a roof, which would greatly increase skating time by requiring less snow removal.

“We are all volunteers trying to get this sorted out. We want to bring the rink downtown. We like the fair and we don’t mind being there, but some of us feel that it might be easier to get a roof eventually if we’re downtown,” Ryan said.

Southeast Alaska State Fair Executive Director Ross Silkman said he thinks fair board members would be “disappointed” if the rink were moved, but that since Haines Hockey maintains the rink, the fair would not really have grounds to object.

“In terms of the fair’s perspective, we just allow them the space to be able to do it. But Haines Hockey builds it and maintains it and puts time and money into it, and they are volunteering their time. So the fair doesn’t have much of a say to oppose it,” Silkman said.

Silkman also said the issue would come before the fair board during its Jan. 22 meeting not as an action item but for informal discussion.

Wheeler, who is on both the fair board and the Haines Hockey board, said he doesn’t really care one way or the other where the rink is as long as he gets to play hockey. He also said he doesn’t believe the rink’s somewhat isolated current location discourages use.

“I think with a recreational facility, people are going to search it out. We’re only two minutes from downtown and I don’t think having it in your face is going to make any difference,” Wheeler said.

Hoffman said board members had been collecting signatures from supportive community members and estimated the total number of signatures to be between 40 and 50. The signatures would have been included with the resolution submitted to the assembly, Hoffman said.

Ryan said one of the reasons he decided to pull the plug on the project at least temporarily was he did not want to invest a lot of effort in the time-consuming process of grant writing without a green light from the assembly on Jan. 22, which would have left only a little more than a week to put together the application.

Board members said they did not know whether the same grant would be available next year, but that they intend to pursue other governmental and nongovernmental grant opportunities.

“Basically what it comes down to is we’re trying to do it right and make something for the community – as well as ourselves – that’s going to go over as smoothly as possible,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman brought the ice rink issue before the assembly during its Oct. 9 meeting, when he was serving as an assembly member.

Several assembly members, including Debra Schnabel and Norm Smith, expressed support for the general idea of improving the ice rink, but said it was too premature for the assembly to take any action.

Assembly member Steve Vick made a motion to allow Haines Hockey to construct a temporary ice rink at the former primary school property, to be removed on May 1, 2013, but the motion failed after not receiving a second.