Anna Steeler stops her work briefly to smile and thank a family as they return their skates; She adds the skates to a long line of others waiting to be wiped down and put away. It’s nearing 3:45 and Steeler is wrapping up the day’s public skating session.
For 12 years Steeler has worked for the Lane County Ice Center, Lane County only ice skating rink. During that time she’s seen the rink serve the community of Eugene not only through public skating, but with programs for figure skating, ice dancing, speed skating, and hockey.
Hours later, at 10 p.m., long after the public skaters are gone and Steeler has retired for the day, Wren Arbuthnot makes his way onto the ice with the rest of the University of Oregon hockey team. These late night practices are a nothing new for the Arbuthnot UO squad.
“Ice is Cheaper then, as there is no competition for those ice time slots. Poor college students, right? Arbuthnot” says.
Arbuthnot, a senior goaltender for the UO squad, says he been playing hockey since he was seven and was pretty much born with skates on. He grew up in Denver, Colorado but was inspired to play while watching hockey with his dad from Montreal, where he now spends his summers coaching hockey.
Like Steeler, Arbuthnot hopes that Lane County aging ice rink can continue serve the community.
In its 20 year history the center has drawn in people from all over Lane County, Oregon with holiday events and family skating alike and has become home to both the Eugene Generals junior hockey team and Oregon Ducks hockey. However, in recent years the skating rink has struggled with the desperate need for repairs and a lack of business.
For years after its opening, the Ice Center was a huge draw in the surrounding community. According to the center history, in the years following its 1989 opening ice skating classes full rosters at every level waiting lists for all its classes. The demand, both for group and private lessons, required that the center have at least a dozen coaches on the coaching roster. Beyond the demand for lessons, public skating for years was wildly popular among locals. Public skaters used to have to wait in line most times of the day for an opportunity to skate.
Today, as Steeler puts away skates, only a few families and individual skaters are making use of the ice. The once vast crowds that flocked to the center have dwindled to a small, yet committed, community of skaters, much of which is centered around the hockey teams based in the center and the figure skating club.
Today’s economy, as with many businesses, has hit the Ice Center hard. According to an article by the Register Guard’s Matt Cooper, the center lost about $200,000 this year, a loss they can hardly afford. The center is part of the Lane Events Center, which receives about 80 percent of its funding for operating from the Lane County Fair and convention center rentals. The Events Center budget for operating is about $4.4 million, and it often receives county tax money to help pay for the cost of repairs. This year the fairgrounds will receive approximately $900,000 in tax revenue.
The economy and underfunding are only the beginning of the problems for the Ice Center. The center itself is in desperate need of repairs. Cindy Jensen, the manager of the ice center, said that there are many problems with the center that require attention. These include the pipes running underneath, which are no longer being manufactured and need to be replaced along with the heating system which was damaged nearly 10 years ago and also needs replacing. The most immediate problem, however, is the accumulation of permafrost underneath the ice rink.
The buildup of permafrost beneath buildings with ground level floors that require temperatures to stay below freezing, such as an ice rink, is a common problem. It occurs when the soil underneath the frozen surfaces freezes causing stress or heaving on the foundation which can potentially warp or crack the foundation.
At the Lane County Ice Center about 20 feet of permafrost has accumulated under the ice, causing it to heave up and create uneven areas. It also warped some of the boards around the ice, forcing the rink to brace them with steel girders to keep the boards level.
“It takes a month of the Ice Center being shut down to relieve one inch of permafrost. There’s just no way we can afford to shut down the center for that long to relieve it all” Jensen said.
However, according to Jensen, the ice center will close for about five months starting in March, after the Generals finish the 2009-2010 season, to decide how to best address the needed repairs.
“Closing the center for five months this spring will be to do an assessment of the situation and system. We l look at the problems and assess what should be done, but we won’t be shutting down to repair any existing problems” Jensen said.
For Arbuthnot and the rest of the UO problems with the ice aren’t too uncommon, but it is definitely something they recognize and work to overcome.
“We learn to compensate for the issues that the rink faces. Every rink has its detrimental elements whether it major stuff like uneven spots/boards, to small stuff like soft or hard ice” Arbuthnot says.
The problem is not just a serious threat to the rink. It is an expensive one. The cost of the required repairs is estimated from $1 million to $3 million. The events center only has about $200,000 set aside for total repair work at the fairgrounds, not just the ice center. Other buildings at the fairgrounds are nearly 50 years old, 30 years older than the ice center, and are in even greater need of repairs. The total cost to make the necessary repairs on all the buildings at the 55 acre fairgrounds comes to about $13 million. That not a good sign for the struggling ice center.
For the ice center, cutbacks have been necessary to survive. Over the summer the center cut back on its employees hours and made them seasonal. According to Steeler, the rink used to employ 15-20 workers but is now down to about nine.
“We have a much smaller staff than we used to. We’ve all just got to pitch in extra to keep things running” Steeler said.
The money difficulties could also harm some of the center’s special programs. According to Jensen, the ice center will most likely become seasonal and close during the summer months to save money. This plan will not affect the hockey teams whose seasons are during the fall and winter months), but it will hurt programs that require year round training, mainly the figure skating program.
“We usually break even or make a little profit during the hockey season, but it isn’t enough to cover losses incurred during the offseason. Public skating drops a lot in the offseason. It sad but that the nature of the industry. When it summer time and the weather is nice people want to be outside” Jensen said. “The hockey program won really be affected; it the figure skating program that will be hurt the most because they need to train year round. Figure skating requires a lot of ice for a few people, and it down nationwide not just here” she added.
As far as community involvement to help the ice center in its struggles, Jensen says that some people in the community have shown concern and a wish to help support the center, but the vast majority of support comes from the user groups who call the ice center their home, including the Generals, the UO club hockey team, the figure skating and speed skating clubs, women extreme hockey, and the Ice Center adults hockey team.
“We e had a few calls or inquiries from the community, but they aren’t breaking the doors down to say ave the ice rink. It’s our user groups that are very involved and anxious and are working the hardest to help the ice rink. Those are our regular users Jensen said.
As Steeler wraps up her day that small, but dedicated, community of skaters continue to make use of their rink in hopes that it will always be there to serve them. A few families still are skating across the rink in the last minutes of the public skating sessions, while several teenaged figure skaters haul their gear through the front door and begin to excitedly prepare for practice. In the face of the center struggles Steeler hopes to show community the benefits that her and many other skaters have found in the ice rink.
“Alot of our users are coming together and trying to get the word out there more. We e just trying to show people that we are here” she says.
And hours later Arbuthnot wraps up his practice, just as unsure about the future of his team’s home.
“No one on the team wants to see the rink close, and anything we can do (monetary donations, petitions, facebook groups) we try to do, but we can’t really make a huge impact. All the people I know who play at the rink are very supportive. It’s a high priority to save the rink for the people who actually utilize it” he says.
“All I know is if the rink closes, you could probably see the hockey team petitioning Uncle Phil (Phil Knight) to turn Mac Court into a rink when we move over to Matthews (Matthew Knight Arena) for basketball he added optimistically.”
Sidebar #1: The many health benefits of ice skating:
In a struggling economy, and with the entertainment value in both public skating and competitive sports, such as hockey and figure skating, it’s easy to overlook the benefits the ice center can have on the health of the community. Any form of ice skating provides an array of aerobic benefits for one’s health. The most obvious benefit is the cardiovascular workout ice skating offers.
Casual ice skating burns about 633 calories an hour for a person weighing about 155 pounds. That is roughly the same amount of calories a person of the same weight burns while running 5.2 mph (an 11.5 minute mile). More vigorous skating activities offer even greater benefits. Competitive skating and speed skating burn approximately 1056 calories an hour for a 155 pound individual. That is equal to running nine mph, or running a 6.5 minute mile. Hockey burns 563 calories an hour, the same as jogging five mph or a 12 minute mile.
Beyond being great for cardiovascular endurance, skating is an excellent method to help a person tone their muscles. Skating primarily help tone the leg muscles, specifically the quadriceps and hamstrings, but also helps to tone other muscles in the body including the abs and lower back.
The key to getting the best results from skating is to keep up continual skating. Skating continually for a certain time and distance will provide the best workout and increasing the distance traveled while decreasing the time it takes as the skater becomes more practice will only increase the benefits.
Sidebar #2: The History Lane County Ice
The Lane County Ice Center’s history spans 20 years, back to its founding on December 22, 1989. The center was converted from an old horse arena at the fairgrounds. Its opening featured the northwest’s premier skater of the time Tanya Harding, and the center was a huge draw for the community for years to come.
The center held their first FAIR show in 1990 which lasted six days with two performances a day. In the early 1990 the center introduced its annual holiday ice shows, which have been huge successes and continue to this day. The holiday shows are benefits to the United States Marine Corps Toys for Tots program. In 1990 the rink also introduced synchronized skating classes and a week long skating camp.
In 2005 the rink became home to the Eugene Generals, the newly formed junior hockey team. The team has enjoyed a large amount of success since forming. They finished ranked second in their conference with a record of 31-13 in the 2005-2006 season and third with a record of 35-15 in 2007-2008. In the early stages of this 2009-2010 season the Generals are second in the standings behind Puget Sound with a 3-1 record. It is also home to the Oregon Ducks club hockey team, who were the Pac-8 champions in the 2008-2009 season.
The rink still offers programs for beginners in figure skating, hockey, and speed skating along with the adult hockey teams and advanced figure skating programs.