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Ice rink expansion talk is premature right now

August 23, 2000

Ice rink expansion talk is premature right now



Expand Hagerstown's ice rink?

Given that the city government is subsidizing the facility at the Hagerstown Fairgrounds to the tune of $114,000 a year, we agree with Beverly Kornides, who chairs the ice rink's board, that such talk is premature.

The proposal to expand the building and add a second sheet of ice came from Gavin Regan, recently hired as the new executive director of the rink. Usage is now at peak levels and the facility is losing possible revenue, Regan told The Herald-Mail, adding that the expansion wouldn't be "a big process."

We like Regan's enthusiasm, but even though he has experience in finance and is an official with a national ice hockey association, he needs to review the background of the situation.

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Unlike many local projects, which over the years have been studied nearly to death, the rink was built in an amazingly short time. That was due in large part to the drive of Walter Dill, an employee of First Data Merchant, a lot of donated labor and materials and a $1.2 million bond issued by the city.

But within a year's time, Dill and the board had fallen out, and he sued the board in 1998 for $2.3 million. Turnover on staff and the board has continued, with the last executive director, Jamie Shyda, serving just seven months before taking another job with Hagerstown Community College.

Despite that, progress has been made, according to Austin Abraham, the city's special project coordinator, who told the council this month that this year 40,000 paid to skate there. But Abraham said city subsidies will have to continue for several more years at least.

Last summer The Herald-Mail talked to skating officials and rink managers around the nation. They said that running a rink successfully requires balancing the interests of figure skaters, youth hockey teams and recreational skaters. Even with the closing of the Doris I. Billow rink in Zullinger, Pa., success is not guaranteed, since, the experts say, most people do not go ice skating on a whim.

It will take marketing and a successful learn-to-skate program to get patronage the point where the rink is overly crowded. Than and only then will it be time to talk about another sheet of ice.

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