A pair of grants will come in handy in East Grand Forks, where an upgrade is needed for the Civic Center’s ice-making plant. From where the remaining funds will come is the question, but an easy answer has emerged.

First, the background. Turns out, hockey is something of a big deal in East Grand Forks, and the infrastructure that creates and maintains the ice at the Civic Center – the city’s main ice arena – is outdated. Also, the machinery uses R-22, a refrigerant that is becoming rare and expensive after a federal ruling bans its production. So the center needs an upgrade to its compressors, condenser and control system.

The total cost is expected to be around $350,000, approximately half of which will be paid for via two grants the city recently received. The first totals $143,750 and comes from the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission’s “Mighty Ducks” program; the second is for $30,000 and comes from the NHL’s “Kraft Hockeyville” event held last year.

The rest of the bill?

It could come from a kitty of approximately $600,000 that grew from a citywide sales tax that has been in place since 2016 to pay for renovations at the city’s public pool at Sherlock Park. The loan was repaid in full as of May 2020, but the tax collection lasted beyond that, leaving the additional money.

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The overage was reported in a recent Grand Forks Herald piece that outlined the possibilities not only of the ice-plant renovation, but also future parks and recreation needs in East Grand Forks.

Using the leftover pool funds is the best choice, albeit one that was unintended when East Grand Forks voters chose to institute the tax to pay for the pool construction. But since it’s a recreation-based need, and since the upgrade related to R-22 apparently will be required of ice arenas across the nation, the leftover pool money is the best choice to pay for the hockey upgrades.

When it first arose, the project was predicted to cost around $287,500, but a consultant suggested a better system, with advanced controls and a better compressor. Reid Huttunen, the city’s parks and recreation director, likened it to purchasing a Cadillac rather than a Chevy. He prefers the Cadillac.

“This one is just upgrading to a more efficient, higher-quality product,” he said.

We don’t take that as a laissez faire approach with public dollars but rather a strategy to provide the community with quality, and lasting, equipment.

East Grand Forks cares about ice – whether for hockey or skating – and this is a plan to ensure good ice for years to come. The aforementioned grants make it affordable, and money already exists that can be used to pay the balance. The City Council should move forward with the plan to use the leftover pool funds.

It’s a win for East Grand Forks.