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$24 million plan would add second rink to Civic Center, convert VFW Arena to a fieldhouse in East Grand Forks

Green Wave vs. Spartans 2018. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
A consulting firm's $24 million recommendation to East Grand Forks city leaders would add a second sheet of ice at the East Grand Forks Civic Center, seen here during a Green Wave game in 2018, and turn the VFW Memorial Arena into a fieldhouse. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

How might East Grand Forks fix up its ice arenas?

An architecture firm hired by the city has a $24 million idea that would add a second sheet of ice to the East Grand Forks Civic Center and convert its VFW Memorial Arena into a fieldhouse with a mind toward indoor sports, such as football, softball, golf and track. City Council members are scheduled to discuss that “arena feasibility study” on Tuesday, Nov. 12.

Consolidating two rinks to a single spot would mean less staffing, utility and maintenance costs, staff at JLG Architects contend in an 83-page study, and the plan would leave room for city leaders to tick off items on a laundry list of recommended upgrades as they see fit. The move also would mean new locker rooms at the Civic Center, a consolidated spot for hockey tournaments and “greater opportunity for dry floor/off season events.”

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But, perhaps most notably, it also would be a way for the city to deal with a potentially expensive problem. The aging refrigeration systems at the Civic Center and the VFW use a chemical called R-22, which is being phased out under an Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency mandate. City Council members voted in June to spend $25,000 to stockpile 2,000 pounds of the coolant, which should be enough to last years, but, as the 2020 ban on producing or importing R-22 approaches, prices have fluctuated and will presumably only go up as it gets rarer and rarer in the United States.

Building a second rink and a consolidated refrigeration system at the Civic Center would cost about $1.37 million, according to the study — a figure that’s about $480,000 cheaper than the combined cost of upgrading the VFW’s system and rink floor and the Civic Center’s system separately. That figure, however, does not include the estimated $885,000 it would cost to replace the center’s existing rink floor, which the study recommends the city do “in the near future.”

For context: The study indicates that replacing the VFW’s refrigeration system and rink floor would cost $1.2 million, replacing the Civic Center’s system and existing rink floor would cost $1.53 million and building a consolidated system at the center, plus a second rink and replacing the existing rink floor there would cost $2.26 million.

In all, the firm’s plan would add 45,000 square feet worth of new construction. Under the plan, city leaders also could opt to add accessible seating and install a dedicated dehumidification unit for one rink to run year-round. Those options, if the city wants all of them, would tack another $1.7 million to the project, bringing its total cost to $25.7 million.

The Civic Center and VFW Arena were both built decades ago, and the firm’s study includes a laundry list of needs between them, including a lack of fire sprinklers, too-small locker rooms, poor drainage, too little parking and several mechanical and electrical items that need to be replaced.

Staff at the architecture firm — plus a team of its consultants -- have been working and meeting with a “steering committee” for months to put together the study. East Grand Forks City Council members voted in June to pay JLG $10,000 for that work.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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