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Fearing future pressure to contribute millions to an ice arena, Mendota Heights opted out of joining a task force that would evaluate the feasibility of building a new arena that would replace West St. Paul's aging facility.

The 3-2 vote came at a council meeting earlier this month, despite several residents and hockey parents voicing support for participating in the $20,000 study, offered at no charge by the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission (MASC).

"My goodness, we've been offered a free study. Who turns down a free study?" Mendota Heights Council Member Ultan Duggan said in an interview.

Duggan and Council Member Steve Norton voted in support of joining the task force. "It doesn't mean that if you do a study, you have to build an ice arena," Duggan said. "But you would certainly have a lot of facts and figures to make a decision. There's a lot of information and misinformation, and we don't have either of those. We have gut feelings. We need knowledge to help us make decisions and not make assumptions."

West St. Paul leaders in June asked Mendota Heights to join the task force. The Sibley Area Hockey Arena Study Force is made up of representatives from the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan School District, Sunfish Lake, and possibly Eagan, Lilydale and Mendota — all which represent those who use the facility. "This is something that came to us and kind of pushed us against the wall," Mendota Heights Mayor Sandra Krebsbach said of the invitation to join. She voted against the motion.

The school district said it can't contribute to the construction, management or maintenance of the arena, and Krebsbach said Mendota Heights is in almost the same boat. "There was no reason to get into it when [the task force] was going to be looking at us at a level that we can't carry," Krebsbach said. "The 'no' was going to come. So for us to get in the task force, go through all this pressure trying to figure out who is representing what portion, and then say, 'no, we can't do it,' that's just delaying the inevitable."

Frank Friedmann, former president of the Sibley Area Youth Hockey Association, which uses the West St. Paul arena, told the council that 215 of the 387 children in the association are from Mendota Heights. "There definitely is a community need," he said. Other parents said most who use the facility are from Mendota Heights.

The West St. Paul arena was built in 1971 and is "coming to the end of its life," Friedmann said. Paul Erickson, MASC executive director, told the Mendota Heights council in June that preliminary estimates show a facility with a single sheet of ice would cost $4 million to $6 million while a two-sheet arena would cost $7 million to $9 million.

"This has actually kept me up at night, and I'm really struggling with what is the right thing to do," said Council Member Liz Petschel, who voted against the task force. The study will go on without Mendota Heights. The mayor said this does not mean the city will not contribute dollars. "To add anything in the million-dollar scales couldn't happen," she said in an interview. "But in the $250,000 or $500,000 contribution, that's something that would be doable for Mendota Heights."

Liala Helal • 952-746-3286