A mix of teenage hockey players, budding figure skaters and wobbly tykes on blades hit the freshly resurfaced ice Tuesday afternoon for the first public skate at Frontier Ice Arena in Coeur d’Alene.
The $2.8 million arena, owned and operated by the nonprofit Kootenai Youth Recreation Organization, replaces one demolished four winters ago under the weight of heavy snow.
Among the first to try out the rink Tuesday was Chris Anders, 27, a Coeur d’Alene figure skater who tours with Disney on Ice.
“It’s amazing. This is great for the community,” Anders said on a break from practicing spins and jumps.
Spokane native Tyler Johnson, a center with the American Hockey League champion Norfolk Admirals, also stopped by to check out the new arena, pose for photos with fans and take a few laps with young skaters.
“It’s unbelievable here,” said Johnson, who recalled skating at the old rink here in youth hockey. “It’s going to be great to give the opportunity to a lot more kids to play hockey. It’s a top-notch facility, and they’ve done a wonderful job here.”
Hockey leagues, figure skaters and other North Idaho and Spokane County skaters who used the old KYRO ice arena on Seltice Way waited a long time for the new building to go up. And even now it lacks many finishing touches, with KYRO hoping to raise another $87,000 for interior windows, stadium seats, showers, a sound system and other finishing touches.
“It’s a relief to be open,” said Vince Hughes, president of the KYRO board of directors. “It’s great to see kids and families out there skating again.”
The former arena was reduced to a heap of twisted metal when a buildup of snow caused the roof to collapse in December 2008. The loss was a blow to the many kids and adults who skated there and were faced with longer commutes to rinks in north Spokane and Cheney.
But it also opened the door to a modern ice arena. KYRO took a $2 million insurance settlement and designed a bigger, better facility. It embarked on an $800,000 fundraising drive while navigating Kootenai County’s building permit process.
All that took much longer than anyone thought. “Three and a half long, agonizing years,” is how Hughes described the journey. “We replaced an old pole barn with a concrete-block building. It was an effort from the ground up.”
The former rink was tucked into a 27,000-square-foot building with no lobby or meeting rooms and tiny locker rooms.
The new 34,000-square-foot complex has a larger rink, 200 feet by 85 feet – North Idaho’s first NHL regulation-size ice – plus room to expand and add a second sheet of ice. It also has a heated 200-seat spectator area, party rooms for special occasions, a concession stand, skate rental, kitchen, office space, roomy locker rooms and a paved parking lot outside.
The roof was engineered to hold a snow load of 60 pounds per square foot, 20 pounds more than county building regulations require.
The arena will be a busy place, used by dozens of hockey teams for practice and games, as well as figure skaters, curling teams, recreational users, and school and church groups on field trips.
Anders said his friends have been itching to skate but didn’t want to drive to Eagles Ice-A-Rena in north Spokane.
“And now we have a year-round facility here, which is amazing,” he said.
Cam Severson, who played for the Spokane Chiefs in the late 1990s and later the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, will use Frontier Ice Arena as the home base for Compete Hockey, his hockey development program for players ages 15 through 17.
On Tuesday he watched members of his Compete Rams on the ice.
“It’s done up exactly the right way an arena should be,” Severson said. “The most unbelievable part of it is how the community came together to make this thing happen.”
Hundreds of contributions from skating families and community supporters made it possible, as well as major donations from Frontier Communications, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, Sterling Hospitality Management, Spokane Teachers Credit Union and Coeur d’Alene’s urban renewal agency, Lake City Development Corp.
“There’s still things that need to be done,” Hughes said. “But yeah, it’s a really nice facility.”