Missoula County commissioners signed off Tuesday on a feasibility study intended to determine if a third sheet of ice is needed in Missoula and, if so, where the new rink would go.

Chris Lounsbury, the county's chief operating officer, said a consulting team was expected to arrive in Missoula next month to begin the study. The Denver-based firm Ballard and King Associates will release its findings by April.

“This authorizes the first two phases to look at the current ice operations – the facilities themselves – and determine if a third sheet of ice can be sustained in Missoula,” Lounsbury said. “If a third sheet of ice is deemed necessary, they'll look at three site locations alternate to the Missoula County Fairgrounds.”

The current facilities located at the fairgrounds include the indoor Glacier Ice Rink and a seasonal sheet of ice located outdoors. If the study determines that a third sheet is necessary and identifies a suitable location, the parties behind the study would have to agree on the next step.

“The third phase would have to be authorized in writing by all parties, if they wanted to participate,” Lounsbury said. “It would look at the governance and what makes the most sense for the two existing sheets of ice and a third sheet of ice.”

Such questions would detail whether a nonprofit would manage the current ice facilities – and a new sheet of ice – or whether they would fall under city management, such as Currents Aquatic Center.

Laura Henning, executive director of the Missoula Area Youth Hockey Association, said the current facility runs at capacity during certain hours of the day, particularly from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., with weekends booked solid.

Having more ice in summer months could also benefit the rink's programs. Currently, the outdoor ice is removed to make way for events at the Western Montana Fair.

“It would be easier not to vacate the (outdoor) ice in the summer,” Henning said. “I think there's definitely a need for summer hockey camps. I'm sure the curling club could expand if it had more ice time. Everyone is really limited by ice time.”

Henning said the study will help determine where a third sheet of ice would be placed. Recent plans submitted to the Missoula County Fairgrounds Advisory Committee have suggested an additional rink at the fairgrounds.

“We're using the study to give us a little clarity and direction,” Henning said. “The adult hockey players don't like playing at midnight, and curling doesn't like Saturday from 9 p.m. to midnight. It's the hours more than anything. Everyone is crowding into the ice during certain hours.”