Missoula County commissioners on Thursday approved a $39,000 contract with a design group to assess Glacier Ice Rink and offer designs for a new and expanded facility.
But approval came with some reluctance from Commissioner Cola Rowley, who said the clubs that use the ice rink need to put more “skin in the game,” even as the county moves to take ownership of the facility and change the way it’s governed.
The $39,300 contract fee will be paid for from the county’s budget for capital improvements.
“We’re spending so much money upgrading the fairgrounds, it would be nice to get our partners to help with the financial burden wherever we can,” said Rowley. “This is one place where I felt we could have found some. It just decreases the amount we have for our other capital projects.”
Emily Bentley, director of the Missoula County Fairgrounds, said a selection committee unanimously selected 292 Design Group to assess the ice rink and its related facilities.
The committee included fairgrounds staff, the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation and several ice-related clubs, including the Missoula Figure Skating Club, the Missoula Curling Club and the Missoula Area Youth Hockey Association.
“We know there’s need and capacity in Missoula to grow to three hockey-sized rinks,” said Bentley. “There would be enough use to have three sustainable facilities. What we don’t know is how long the current facility has left and whether it’s worth patching it.”
Nearly two years ago, the county funded a separate study to determine if a third sheet of ice was needed and sustainable in Missoula. That contract was awarded to Ballard and King Associates and found that Glacier Ice Rink had reached capacity.
It also found that additional ice could enhance programs by offering year-round recreation to more people. In the end, it also recommended building a new facility.
“The challenge facing the county and the Missoula Area Youth Hockey Association is the high cost of renovation in comparison to building a new facility,” the study determined. “It’s our opinion that it makes more sense to build a new facility than renovate the existing ice rink.”
Bentley said the latest study will differ from that conducted by Ballard and King two years ago. The new design group will assess the condition of the current facility and offer several renderings of a new one.
That will include everything from the building itself to the refrigeration system.
“We’re hoping to get a conceptual design of the facilities and renderings we can use to raise funds and start to put together a vision for the community,” said Bentley. “We’ll layer that in with our design standards process with our team. Before we go to design our new facilities, we’d go through another procurement process.”
In their Fiscal Year 2018 budget, commissioners dedicated three additional mills to help fund capital improvement projects at the fairgrounds. The county also has tucked away the needed funding to complete at least one building project associated with its new master plan, that being the Learning Center.
But millions of additional dollars will be needed to bring the fairgrounds plan to fruition, including a new and expanded ice facility. The county has said it can’t do it alone, and Rowley reiterated that point on Thursday.
“I’d like to see some financial backing from some of the partners in the future,” said Rowley. “That facility is a partnership. I find it odd that the county is paying the entire cost (of the new study).”
Bentley said the Missoula Area Youth Hockey Association did offer to cover the new study’s $39,000 cost, but didn’t want to go through the procurement process in doing so. She said the fairgrounds, now under new leadership, is trying to move away from its past practices, which were often done “with a handshake and a volunteer effort.”
While valuable, Bentley said, the old approach has resulted in questionable work and could leave the county vulnerable.
“We’re moving toward a different governance structure,” Bentley said. “This is part of that and us taking ownership of the facilities. We’re trying to own it. We’re moving toward a model where the Missoula Area Youth Hockey Association does the programming and we do all the facilities. As part of that, we’re taking control of it (the ice).”
Missoula County commissioners have also asked the city to consider adjusting the boundaries of Urban Renewal District III to include the fairgrounds. That, Bentley said last week, would help the county make public improvements to water and sewer, as well as the public right-of-way.
The City Council has not taken up the request.