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Farmington ice arena project is a learning experience

This is Ice For Tigers’ current proposal for what an addition to Schmitz-Maki Arena might look like. The group is still trying to raise money.

Rob Juncker is the first to admit 2013 didn’t go exactly as planned. But it was a heck of an education.

Juncker is a member of Ice for Tigers, a group of Farmington residents working to raise money and make plans to build a second sheet of ice at Schmitz-Maki Arena in Farmington. The group first brought its plan to the Farmington City Council in September, 2012. At the time, they proposed a plan to have a second sheet of ice in operation by the fall of 2013.

Yet, it’s now January, 2014, and the arena still has only one sheet of ice. And the Ice for Tigers group is OK with that.

It turns out that 2013 was a year of learning for the group, Juncker said. In developing their proposal 18 months ago, they didn’t expect some of the issues that can arise when it came to working with city and school district government.

There were a few complications that came up last year, he said. Both the city and the school district had indicated they would support the project, but changes in state and federal funding meant both had to adjust budgets last year, meaning no extra money was available for an ice arena expansion. The Farmington Youth Hockey Association, another partner in the project, also restructured its budget and could not make a commitment.

At the same time, the cost of concrete, steel and other materials proposed in the original plan skyrocketed. The increase in material costs drove the proposed construction cost up by nearly $1 million.

“Talk about the worst of all worlds,” Juncker said.

On the bright side

But still, there were a lot of good things that happened for the group in 2013. In December, the Ice for Tigers group met with Farmington mayor Todd Larson and Farmington School District superintendent Jay Haugen. Juncker was pleased with what they had to say.

“The collaboration with the city and school has really picked up,” he said. “We sat down together in December. They reaffirmed that everyone is committed to making this happen.”

The community seems to be on board, too, which is encouraging. During a pledge drive last year, where sponsors could buy pucks for a $250 donation, Ice for Tigers received more than $35,000 in pledges.

“That was a great proof point for the city as well as a great proof point for the school, to show that there was support for this rink,” Juncker said.

Ice for Tigers has also taken a step back and reexamined the construction proposal. In recent weeks, members have toured different ice arenas — going so far as to even visit rinks used in past Olympic competitions.

From those visits, the group has come up with a redesigned look for the second sheet of ice.

“We moved away from the cement and steel, and moved to a more economic structure,” Juncker said. “This gives us a lot more options and gives us a much better cost. This week we are getting a new bill of materials, and we’re expecting that to cut over $1.5 million out of the total cost of the structure.”

Once they have those new numbers in hand, Ice for Tigers members will create a new budget and fundraising plan for the project. And then, they’ll be ready to move ahead again, Juncker said. Only this year, they’ll know more of what to expect.

“I would say we’ve learned a lot by way of politics. We now understand greatly how to work with the city and the schools. We’re in this for the long haul. It’s not a matter of if, but when the stars align to make this happen. And every meeting, we’re getting closer and closer,” he said.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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