Kenai resident Dan Sexton laced up his skates and stepped onto the ice for a Monday afternoon glide at the ConocoPhillips Kenai Multipurpose Facility in Kenai.
Red Line Sports and the Kenai River Brown Bears are sponsoring Summer Ice at the Kenai rink with instructors teaching skating sessions for a variety of ages and skill levels from June to September. Public skating is open during the week from 1- 2:30 p.m.
Sexton said he comes to the rink three times a week to make a few laps for exercise. With the entire rink to himself, he glides along the boards and leans forward with one arm swinging to propel him. Speed skating is a great workout, he said. With the summer sun peering through the building opening, not many people think to go skating, but the ice is in good condition, he said.
“This is the best kept secret in town,” Sexton said. “Where else can you skate on ice and still have mosquitoes buzzing around?”
While the multipurpose facility is utilized for youth hockey leagues and public skating, Kenai Parks and Recreation Director Bob Frates said the building, located on the Kenai Spur Highway next to the Challenger Learning Center and Kenai Central High School, has the potential to accommodate more user groups and be an even greater asset to the community.
At Wednesday’s meeting the Kenai City Council will vote on a resolution to allocate $30,000 from the general fund for the preliminary design of permanent locker rooms for the Kenai Multipurpose Facility. The funds for the design phase of the capital project will help facilitate the pursuit of grant funds from the Legislature to pay for construction, said Kenai City Manager Rick Koch.
In 2001, the council authorized a $400,000 buyout of Phase 1 LLC, a group of private investors who loaned the city money to build the facility in 1999. The city purchased a refrigeration system in 2001 to keep ice cool year-round.
Since then the city has looked at other ways to improve the building to better fit community interests. At one point the city entertained the idea of an artificial turf field over the ice surface for indoor soccer, Koch said.
Currently the building has two small locker rooms that are not a suitable space for visiting hockey teams, Koch said. The Kenai Central High School hockey teams play their home games at the Soldotna Regional Sports Center. Having a place for the home team to play near the high school has been the goal since the rink was build, he said.
“There is something exciting about having a noisy crowd cheering on the home team in the close confines of the ice,” Koch said. “The locker room is a good place to start and get momentum and set an achievable goal to demonstrate where we want to go with the building.”
In the winter months with the rink not fully enclosed, spectators, sitting on metal bleachers, wear multiple layers to deal with the cold, Koch said. Teams would huddle close to a little heater in the locker rooms during intermission, he said.
Koch said there is a list of upgrades the city would eventually like to make to the facility in a phased approach, including home and visitor locker rooms that would need a new mechanical room, a heating system for spectators, a dehumidifier and an air circulation system.
He estimated the cost to build four locker rooms would run between $500,000 to $700,000 and would seek out state grants to pay for the project. Pending the council’s vote and waiting until the next legislative session to petition for capital money, Koch said the locker room construction is still three years away.
In Wasilla the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center, built in 2004, is a 102,000 square foot building that includes a NHL-size ice arena, an indoor artificial turf court, a track, three community meeting rooms and a kitchen. Koch said such a facility would get a tremendous amount of use here.
Sexton said it is great having two hockey rinks within 20 miles of each other. Eight years ago, Sexton looked into starting a speed skating club that would bring down teams from Anchorage for competitions. Sexton was diagnosed with prostate cancer and has since recovered but the club idea never materialize, he said.
“The interest is here for a speed skating team,” he said.
In the meantime, two longtime area hockey coaches — Vince Redford, who has coached hockey for 30 years, and Nate Kiel, the general manager of the Kenai River Brown Bears — have joined together to start the Summer Ice skate sessions. For more information call 283-4677.
Reach Dan Balmer at email@example.com.