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Feature Article - July/August 2005

A Cool Checkup

Healthy tips for ice arenas

By Stacy St. Clair


Ice time is booked. The pro shop bustles. The concession stand sells more hot chocolate than Swiss Miss. But let's take a closer look. Is your facility making as much money as it could be? Are you protecting visitors and staff from injury and illness? Are you attracting new patrons and keeping existing ones happy?

In short, just how healthy is your facility?

Even the most successful rinks must stop to take their temperature once in a while. It's during these occasional checkups that we find trouble-free ways to better a facility's financial, physical and recreational health.

Here are several simple, but vital, suggestions to improve your arena's well-being.

Financial

When it comes to financial well-being, Broome Community College Ice Arena helps set the standard.

The Binghamton, N.Y., facility not only covers its own expenses, its profits help pay for other programs at the state-run school. Arena Director Philip Testa accomplishes the fiscal feat despite a no-compete clause with a nearby private rink.

The arena's success lies in its decision to be more than just a place to ice skate or play hockey. Since opening its doors in 2002, the facility has hosted rock concerts, craft fairs, state wrestling tournaments and even cat shows.

The school partnered with a local radio station to help bring popular acts to the rinks. The move has helped the campus attract top bands, including Grammy winners Los Lonely Boys and Nickel Creek.

"In today's economy, we have to squeeze out every penny we possibly can," Testa says. "It started out as an economic issue."

When designing the building, school officials envisioned a multipurpose facility where concerts and other large assemblies could be held. The layout encourages non-ice activities through a flexible lighting system and the ability to cover the ice sheet with homosate panels. When not needed, the panels are stored easily under the seating area.

Equally as important, New York-based Hall Partnership Architects created an arena devoid of the cold, industrial atmosphere that plagues many rinks. Patrons enter the $8 million facility through a two-story central lobby capped by an 82-foot-long, 24-foot-wide barrel vault skylight. The translucent feature bathes the entire arena with a diffused natural light during the day.

Despite its success, the project initially had some detractors. Before the rink opened, critics questioned whether the rink could break even. Their doubts further deepened when the college announced it would not offer summer ice.

The move, though it would cost the campus arena in the short term, benefited the school in the long run. Given the demand for ice time drops dramatically in the off-season, college officials did not want to threaten the profits of a nearby private rink. The rink pays taxes, and its demise would financially hurt Broome.

"At first, people were skeptical," Testa says. "There was all kinds of misinformation floating around."

The rink began offering its counter programming upon opening. The decision paid off immediately, allowing the rink to break even in its first year. It now turns a profit that gets pumped back into the school. And, on a happy note for the community college, the critics have been silenced.

"I can't think of four people who have a bad thing to say about the facility," Testa says. "They know we're making money and turning it right back to the college."

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