West St. Paul closer to ice arena revamp

Mendota Heights, District 197 on board; city applies for "Mighty Ducks" grant

West St. Paul recently chalked up another goal in saving the city's ice arena.

Mendota Heights and School District 197 each pledged $555,333, a third of the cost to revamp John V. Hoene Ice Arena.

Earlier, West St. Paul staff estimated costs to update the arena's cooling system — a move sparked by environmental regulation — and other repairs at just under $2 million.

The cooperation with the neighboring city and school district allowed West St. Paul to move forward Sept. 23 with its application for a $200,000 "Mighty Ducks" grant from the state.

Benefits to teamwork

"It's a local facility that serves the region," West St. Paul City Manager Matt Fulton said. "People have stepped up to the plate and are helping to make sure that those folks who do enjoy skating ... will have the opportunity to have (the arena) going forward." 

With the letters of intent from the two entities demonstrating their commitment to the project, Fulton said the city's grant application will be eligible for "bonus points" in competition with other applicants. That gives the city a higher chance of receiving the grant. 

"The legislation that was developed this last year gives a higher priority to collaborative projects," Fulton said.

The cities and school district have been discussing the issue for the past several months, in hopes of addressing the replacement of the arena's refrigeration system, which uses R-22 coolant, or Freon, which is being phased out by the Environmental Protection Agency. By 2020, it will be illegal to import R-22 into the country.

The 1971 arena also has aging plumbing, electric lines and a weathered roof. 

West St. Paul planners say the upgrades should prepare the arena for another 15-20 years of use.

Boosters beaming

The Mendota Heights City Council voted Sept. 16 to offer up more than $500,000, where the first half would be paid in 2015 and the second half in 2019. Of that, $100,000 would come from the city’s fund balance, $65,000 from the tax levy for the next five years and $112,500 from cell tower revenue. If the project moves forward, the $65,000 would translate to a 1 percent increase in the total tax levy in 2015, making the total increase 6 percent for next year. 

The same night, the city set its preliminary levy at a 6 percent increase from last year's levy, upping it to a total of nearly $7 million. The final levy can be equal or less than the preliminary levy.

The members of the public at the Mendota Heights council meeting broke out in applause when the council approved the letter of intent. Council member Liz Petschel thanked the group for its persistence, and encouraged them to continue to advocate for the project by calling and emailing the state politicians in charge of the grant decision — namely, Sen. James Metzen, Rep. Rick Hansen and Rep. Joe Atkins. 

"You need to hold your own lobby at the next level," Petschel told the group of more than 30.

The District 197 School Board approved its own letter of intent Sept. 22, agreeing to throw in $555,333 of the district’s fund balance, which is similar to a savings account.

The arena is the home ice for the Sibley boys and girls hockey teams and provides space to the district's "feeder" programs, such as the area youth hockey association.

"We became concerned because it's where our students play and it's where our students practice," said superintendent Nancy Allen-Mastro. "Anyone involved in the hockey world knows that ice time is a premium commodity."

Alone, the district wouldn't have the money to build and run its own arena, Allen-Mastro said. 

"With resources being so tight for cities and school districts, the fact that we can partner on this for a reasonable cost and keep that facility open seems like a win-win all the way around," she said.

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.

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