Rink's come a long way

Howelsen Ice Arena nearing end of improvement project

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— Fourteen years ago, the Howelsen Ice Rink was nothing more than a glorified pond.

The rink depended on Mother Nature to keep its ice. The rink featured cold metal bleachers, a small warming hut and a youth hockey program of 22 children.

It's come a long way, baby.

In 1989, a group of residents started fund raising and campaigning for what would turn out to be a $5-million-improvement project.

Today, it's an enclosed arena with heated bleachers that can hold more than 500 people, an ice sheet that has been praised by the USA Women's Olympic Hockey Team, a youth hockey program of 250 children, an adult hockey program of 250 adults and 60 figure skaters.

"This has been 14 years in the coming. It took 14 years to do it right to grow the programs and to make sure we could afford it," Ice Arena Manager Stacey Foster said.

On Sunday, the Howelsen Ice Area will hold an open house to celebrate the completion of a new front entrance and the third phase of the arena project. It was a project that converted a facility used more for roller hockey than ice hockey into an ice rink that is capable of holding NHL hockey camps and ice skating clinics in the summer.

The completion of the front entrance marks the last of what Foster calls the "have to haves." One more phase exists to the project. The fourth phase will extend the lobby to cover the entire front of the barn-like ice arena.

This week, construction is wrapping up on the front entrance. Rustic log beams welcome ice skaters and hockey players into the lobby, which will hold the admissions area, skate rentals, skate sharpening room and administrative offices.

Benches will be placed in the lobby's large open area with glass windows looking out onto the ice rink.

The third phase, which cost about $3.285 million, started in 2001. By last winter, the city had completed the new refrigeration system, four locker rooms and refs' room, offices, dasher boards, bleachers and back bump out.

This fall the foundation and slab were laid for the front entrance, which cost $542,000.

Corporate sponsors contributed close to $200,000 for the third phase with the city paying the rest.

With the completion of the third phase, Foster said, plans are in the works to move the ice arena to year-round ice.

This summer, the ice arena will open in July for a figure skating program and hopes are for an NHL team to come for a summer camp. Foster said there are also plans for the ice rink to host summer tournaments and camps that would draw hockey clubs from around the country to Steamboat.

The ice arena is a far cry from the outdoor rink that existed when Foster arrived in 1989. She said the 14-year improvement project went through three city managers, three parks and recreation directors and countless City Council members.

The first phase, which cost $1.2 million, put in a new refrigeration system and ice mat for the outdoor rink. It also included an out building to house a plant and Zamboni and new dasher boards and Plexiglas. In 1996, the $750,000 second phase started, which enclosed the ice sheet.

Foster said the fourth phase will start when funding is secured.

That phase will extend the first floor of the front entrance into another locker room, concessions area, restrooms and game room. Plans are for a second floor to be added that would hold an open room looking out onto the ice, more offices and a kitchen.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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