Finding something to do in Cheney can be difficult when the weather is bad, but the Eastern Washington University Recreation Center offers winter activities for the community without the drive into Spokane.
The ice rink at the URC is unique in that the ambient temperature is around 60 degrees. The ice is kept cold with a five-mile stretch of pipes and tubing underneath it.
“Ice is rare to come by,” said Jamie Gwinn, URC manager. He said there are around 1,800 ice rinks in the country, and only 400 of those are west of the Rockies. EWU is the only college in the state with its own rink.
Gwinn said there are ice rinks at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, but colleges in Utah and other schools often use city rinks to practice and compete.
David Early, director of recreational activities, said the rink is available to rent for parties and hockey teams. Recently the roof of the rink of the Kootenai Youth Recreation Organization collapsed from the snow pack on its roof and the URC has been picking up some of its programs. It can also be rented out for private parties.
Funded by a 30-year bond, students of the school will pay a $65 activity fee each quarter to help pay for the whole URC. The skating rink makes the $26.3 million facility unique and it gives the school’s hockey club its own home ice. Gwinn said the team is undefeated at home this year.
The rink is a National Hockey League regulation size – about 200 by 85 feet. At home games, the rink is sold out. There are about 750 seats, and spectators don’t need to bundle up to keep warm during the game.
Along with the EWU hockey team, which is part of the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II, the team from Washington State University uses the rink to compete as well. The Junior Chiefs held a tournament there last month.
This weekend the rink will play host to a round-robin tournament with Eastern, Colorado State, Texas Tech and San Jose State. Last weekend, the Eagles hosted the University of Oregon.
Games are free for EWU students and $5 for the general public.
Along with hockey, the ice rink offers open skate for students and community members.
Gwinn estimated that around 120 people a week came to skate during fall quarter and hopes that number will pick up in January when the students return from break.
“Our numbers pick up every week,” Gwinn said.
During the winter break and heavy snowfall, the rink still saw around a dozen skaters a day.
EWU is now offering skating classes to satisfy students’ physical education credits. The classes meet Mondays and Wednesdays. Early said around 45 to 50 students have registered for the classes.
Early also said the rink helps the school with its recruitment efforts. Students who might want to play hockey in college can come to Eastern instead of going to Denver or Grand Forks, N.D., the two closest cities with university rinks.
“We’re providing a unique service to our students here,” Early said. “Now they have a place they can skate.”
The URC also will offer community skating classes soon. The eight- to 10-week classes will be cost $45 to $50 and will be open to everyone.
Although the rink doesn’t have its own concession stand, the Roost on the second floor of the URC is open to serve snacks.