Rink gets one-year reprieve.
The troubled Lane County Ice Center appears likely to survive for at least another year, despite the failure of supporters to meet a steep fundraising requirement set by the county.
The county board has voted unanimously to develop a plan to keep the county rink open through March 2012. The staff is slated on April 27 to produce a proposal for how to do that.
Located at the county fairgrounds west of downtown Eugene, the rink has faced an uncertain future since March 2010, when the board closed it because of permafrost, a frozen layer of earth under the ice, that has disrupted the skating surface.
Movement of the ice could cause a break in the pipes that carry the potentially dangerous refrigerant freon, the county has said.
But rink supporters decried the closure, and the board voted in July to reopen the facility temporarily in a partnership with the Ice Sports Foundation of Lane County, a private nonprofit group organized to raise money for repairs.
The group raised the money for stopgap repairs that included new dasher boards lining the rink and additional equipment to detect freon leaks.
The county also substantially raised usage rates to use the ice, prompting concerns that the new prices would be too steep. But the rink is generating solid revenue for the county, in part because Ken Evans, the foundation president, has been paying the county's rental rates and then offering the rink to the public at lower rates.
Evans also is president of Hockey Oregon, which owns the Eugene Generals, part of the junior-level Northern Pacific Hockey League.
Under the new arrangement, the ice center is no longer running annual operating losses to the county of $150,000, the county has said. Operating revenue is covering operating costs, although that doesn't include other costs including depreciation of the building's value, said Rick Reno, director of the fairgrounds, which is called the Lane Events Center.
But the foundation has raised only about $65,000 toward major work to fix the permafrost problem, well short of the $2 million set by the county board last year as the amount to be collected by the end of this month.
The county board said last year that the foundation was to raise the money within a year or the rink would close, acting County Administrator Liane Richardson said.
The board's vote last year to reopen the facility temporarily was 3-2. But the board's makeup changed in the November election and with it, the votes in favor of the ice center also changed, to a unanimous vote of support last week.
Commissioner Pete Sorenson, who voted last year to reopen the facility, said during last week's meeting that the rink appears to be doing better. He moved to consider extending its operation through March 2012.
Board Chairman Faye Stewart said that last year he voted against reopening the rink because he didn't feel the fundraising goal was realistic and he thought the county's new rental rates were too high.
Stewart reversed course last week and voted in favor of continued operation, he said, because the new arrangement with Hockey Oregon makes fiscal sense.
He said the facility would most likely sit idle without Hockey Oregon's involvement and that county government can't afford the major work that might be necessary in the future.
"It needs to be clearly stated we don't have the revenue," Stewart said.
Evans said Monday that the rink will close at the end of the month, and if rink advocates reach a new agreement with the county, the facility will reopen by the fall for hockey teams, figure skaters and recreational users.
The rates to be charged in the coming season and whether Hockey Oregon will again subsidize use are yet to be determined, Evans said. Capital costs also are under review as the county continues to study long-term needs throughout the 55-acre fairgrounds, he added.
Evans said he's not concerned about freon leaks because they're easily detected and because the ice is more stable, as it is now being allowed to thaw during the summer.
Use of the rink is up significantly for figure skating group lessons and youth and adult amateur hockey, Evans said. "There's just a lot of interest out there," he added. "People want to know (the rink) is going to be there."
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|Title Annotation:||Local Government; County commissioners agree to develop a plan to keep the Lane County Ice Center open until March 2012|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2011|
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