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Group making effort to save Pa. ice rink

December 26, 1999

Save the rinkBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




WAYNESBORO, Pa. - A small group of parents and supporters of the financially troubled Doris I. Billow Ice Arena want to raise $400,000 to keep the rink running. It is a small amount compared to the $1.9 million owed on the facility but enough, they hope, to launch an area-wide effort to bring in big money.

"So far it's only been the Waynesboro area that has contributed to the rink," said Lee Bender of Waynesboro.

Bender, 61, is a leader in the fund-raising effort. Her 9-year-old granddaughter is learning figure skating in the rink on Pa. 16 in Zullinger, Pa., two miles west of Waynesboro.

The $3.3 million rink opened in December 1997. Money to build it came from a $500,000 bequest from the late Doris I. Billow, a local school teacher.

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Additionally, local donations came to $250,000 and a state grant matched that amount. The rest was loaned to Cumberland Valley on Ice, the nonprofit board of directors that runs the rink, by the F&M Bank of Chambersburg, Pa.

Use of the rink has never materialized to the point where entrance fees were able to make it self-supporting, board members have said.

F&M holds two mortgages on the rink totaling $1.9 million. Monthly payments are $17,000.

The rink's management has not made a mortgage payment since the spring, a bank officer said. Earlier this month the bank announced CVOI has until Feb. 11 to pay up or the rink will be sold to the highest bidder at a sheriff's sale.

Robert Crudden is handling CVOI's account for the bank. He has said that while CVOI is making a good effort, the bank can only go so far.

The committee is recruiting volunteers from among regular users of the rink, including hockey players, figure skaters, those in learn-to-skate programs and recreational skaters - about 300 people in all, Bender said.

They come from Franklin, Fulton and Adams counties in Pennsylvania, from Hagerstown and from West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, she said.

"A lot of people come here from Hagerstown even if there is a rink there because ours is Olympic-size. We offer programs that suit them better," said Cary Summerlin, a figure skating coach.

Summerlin lives in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and is a member of the fund-drive committee,

The committee's theme is "Keep the Dream Alive." A marathon weekend will be held at the rink Jan. 7-9. Featured will be raffles, hockey and figure skating exhibitions and a three-day "radio-thon" with area stations participating in a fund-raising campaign.

Volunteers will accept telephone pledges. There will also be a bake auction, and donation canisters will be placed in area business establishments, Bender said.

The Waynesboro Fire Department will hold a benefit bingo with all proceeds going to the ice rink.

Bender said she plans to ask other area fire departments to follow suit.

"This rink is the best thing that ever happened to this area in 30 years," said Charles Skladanek, 78, of Chambersburg, a skate guard at the rink and committee member.

He said Billow didn't leave all that money for a rink only to have it close.

Mike Ross, executive director of the Franklin County Area Development Authority and president of the CVOI board, said the fund-raising effort is bound to help the rink's finances.

"Clearly, whatever is generated will go a long way to the day-to-day operations," Ross said.

Ross said the rink usually makes a slight profit from November through February, breaks even in September, October and April and loses money May through August.

Any money Bender's effort pulls in will help make up for the shortfall and could reduce the debt service.

"More important, it will symbolize a need for grass-roots community support," he said.

Possible scenarios for the future of the rink include its purchase by a coalition of individual and business contributors who would buy it, restructure the debt and keep it open, Ross said.

"It could be saved, but there are many other community causes that compete with it," he said.

Bender said there are several potential buyers who would run it as an ice rink.

Ross said the building, which covers 38,000 square-feet and sits on 8 acres, was designed as a multi-purpose structure.

A new owner could use if for other recreational opportunities, for light industry or commercial purposes, he said.

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