A plan that would remove a public ice rink and replace it with three basketball courts is creating angst in Brooklyn Park, where city officials are rethinking how the community center can best serve residents.
The north metro city is looking to spend up to $15 million to renovate the 40-year-old Community Activity Center and add gym space — a top priority since 2018 when voters approved a $26 million park bond.
To do that, a leading proposal calls for removing one of two ice sheets and converting it into space for basketball, volleyball, pickleball and special events. The community center, built in 1983 and expanded four times since, has one gym but shares the space with the Minnesota National Guard.
This spring, the city secured $5 million in state bonding money specifically tied to such a conversion.
That concerns Sarah Fercho with Three Rivers Figure Skating Club, the biggest user of ice time at Rink 1. Fercho said many groups who use the rink are just now hearing about the proposal to remove it, and feel their concerns and needs are not being considered.
This week, Fercho submitted a petition to the City Council with more than 800 signatures from people who want to save the rink.
"We are not against the use of courts, but it feels like they pitted us against each other, forcing the community to say we prefer basketball over ice sports," she said. "We would like to see more than one proposal."
The idea of ripping out an ice sheet that is booked solid is also a head scratcher for Totino Grace High School Activities Director Mike Smith. The private high school is the fifth-largest buyer of ice time on Rink 1, and the girls' and boys' hockey teams would be displaced if the community center went to one rink, he said.
"The community at large really doesn't know what is cooking," said Smith, who said he heard rumblings in April about the possibility of Rink 1 closing, but it wasn't until Fercho called in recent weeks that he understood the gravity of the situation. "Here is a city with lots of diversities, and instead of meeting the needs, it cuts out a piece and looks to replace it with something else."
Other groups seeking ice time — which is hard to find in the metro — have approached Brooklyn Park in search of a solution. The Rogers Youth Hockey Association even pledged to pay the city $100,000 a year for the next decade to ensure it could rent time.
But city data show the number of Brooklyn Park hockey players has declined, leading some officials to question whether the city should use tax dollars to operate a rink that benefits outside groups.
"That is the question for the City Council," said Parks Director Brad Tullberg. "We are trying to define how the community center is going to serve residents going into the future."
Tullberg said the city has explored adding gym space elsewhere without having to sacrifice the ice sheet, including sports courts at a proposed teen center at Zanewood School. But studies have shown that it was most cost effective to turn Rink 1 into gym space, he said.
Still, Tullberg emphasized no decision has been made, and the recent furor may have resulted due to misinformation that the council was to have voted on the plan this week. Tullberg said the city is still exploring the project — one of the reasons there has not been widespread community engagement.
The city is committed to spending $6.1 million to improve entrances and corridors in the building, a promise officials made to residents when voters approved the park bond, Tullberg said. But the remainder of the project remains unfunded, and nothing is imminent, he said.
"The project has a long way to go even if it is funded," Tullberg said. "We want to make sure we are serving youth from Brooklyn Park. We continue to gather information and share that with the community."