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City puts an end to artificial ice rink after high costs, declining popularity

In pairs and on their own, skaters slide around the Library Lawn Skate Rink, next to the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St., on Saturday, Dec. 26. The rink features a simulated-ice surface and rents skates.

The synthetic ice rink purchased by the city three years ago will not be coming out of storage this year.

Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Mark Hecker said the decision not to install the skating rink was the result of a discussion during the city’s annual budget process.

Hecker said that declining ticket sales since the rink’s debut season and the cost of labor and materials for the annual installation were both factors in the decision.

“There was quite a bit of work involved with putting it together and setting it up,” Hecker said. “And the number of users was declining over the last two years.”

The rink is made of plastic pieces that fit together, but it requires a wooden deck to be constructed beneath it each year. The rink has been temporarily installed during the holiday season on the lawn beside the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St.

In addition to hiring staff to run the rink, it cost thousands of dollars to install the rink each year it was used. The rink operated at a loss of more than $12,000 last season, and several thousand more than that when accounting for the depreciation of the artificial ice surface and skates.

When the rink’s expenses came up during the City Commission’s budget process, none of the commissioners spoke in favor of continuing it. Hecker said the department took that as a general direction to not set up the rink.

Commissioner Matthew Herbert was vocal about his opposition to the rink at the time. This week, Herbert said he sees the rink as an example of the sunk costs fallacy, where something is continued because a lot has been spent on it.

“So many times when it’s been brought up, the justification for having it was, well, it was an expensive skating rink to originally purchase,” Herbert said. “But that doesn’t justify the money we keep pouring into it year after year.”

Herbert also said that there are a lot of costs to maintain and staff the rink and that ticket sales have declined significantly each year.

In 2014, the City Commission voted 3-2 to approve the $80,000 purchase of the skating rink. In the winter of 2014/2015, its debut season, about 8,600 admission passes were sold. The surface originally drew some complaints from those used to skating on real ice, which allows easier gliding. The following season, the number of passes sold was down to about 3,000 and the year after that to about 2,000.

Another issue with the rink was the yearly installation cost. The rink cost $18,000 to install the first year and about $9,000 the following two years. The installation is costly because it requires the removal of part of the library’s sod lawn, construction of the deck, and the reinstallation of new sod once the skating season is over.

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Construction was underway Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014, for a skating rink of artificial ice in ...

At the end of last season, the city initially planned to find a way to forgo the need to build the deck and replace the sod. The city hoped to find a location to pour a concrete slab or use an existing concrete surface such as a tennis or basketball court for the rink’s base. The location would have also required bathrooms and a structure for ticket sales and skate storage.

Hecker said they didn’t find a suitable location that met all those parameters. As far as what the city will do with the rink, he said it’s in storage and that he doesn’t know beyond that.

However, there is some hope for those who wish to skate over the holiday season. Hecker said if temperatures stay in the 20s for an extended period of time, it gives the city some options. He said the city could flood the low-lying area of Watson Park or offer skating on ponds in city parks if the ice reaches an appropriate thickness.

Comments

Ken Lassman

A fine thing for the city to be thankful for. Wise choice indeed. Maybe the city could organize some "field trips" to the KC Ice Center in Shawnee, something that would support the closest ice skating rink and the commuter bus that goes back and forth from Johnson County?

7 months ago

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Bill McGovern

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

7 months ago

Bill McGovern

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

7 months ago

Bill McGovern

The fake ice rink was doomed to fail.

7 months ago

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Kathleen Christian

For crying out loud CITY - just put the money into building a rink that could be used as both an ice skating rink in the winter and a roller rink in the summer or both. Just think of how many ice skating teams and ice hocky teams the schools could have with competitions - how fun would that be? The teens need something like this to do. There are plenty of classes for youngsters and pre-teens at Parks & Rec but not any for older teenagers to do and a rink would be a fun place for them. So stop wasting City dollars on crap like fake ice and build something that will last and they will come.

7 months ago

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Sean Ingram

a multi use court was added to the parks and rec planning survey this past year, but it didn't garner nearly enough support from those voting. It was promoted as a roller derby, roller skate, bike polo, foot sol, and other hard court sports and could have used existing locations. So as far as the city doing this, it got as far as it could go without a vote. there is currently no bike polo or roller derby folks left to promote this. But the goods news to anyone reading this with some capital, is that Ms T. in Topeka is going good business with sk8-away, and her same model could exist in Lawrence just the same with little or no cannibalization.

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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Clara Westphal

The J C Penney;s building would have been perfect for a roller skating and ice skating rink. Just divide the building in half and put concessions in the middle. Too late now.

7 months ago

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Jim Knight

The problem was that the synthetic rink was a bad idea. I grew up in Canada, played hockey all my life, and wanted my children to get out and skate because it is such an enjoyable experience. But this fake rink was terrible. What is needed is a real rink. There are tennis and basketball courts every where in town, which are great for those people who like those sports, but one real skating surface would meet the needs of many other people who like figure skating, and hockey, and simply skating for fun. St Joe has one. Topeka has one. But Lawrence doesn't seem to want to meet the needs of those who aren't interested in playing basketball or tennis.

7 months ago

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Chris Anderson

RIP, city's largest plastic cutting board. Put it on eBay and see if anyone anywhere will pay anything for it.

7 months ago

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Richard Quinlan

“It’s something that is just very Lawrence,” said Jimmy Gibbs, the recreation operations manager of Lawrence’s Parks and Recreation Department. “It’s fun, and it’s something for the community.”

7 months ago

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Richard Quinlan

Other ideas were sand filled jet ski ponds , and a dirt mud track for skateboarders.

7 months ago

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Colin Bachtle

Since they are getting rid of all the stuff and synthetic ice. Can someone else have it to use for there own?

7 months ago

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Josh Berg

I believe I said a few years ago that this was a bad idea. I commented that nobody who really knows how to or wants to ice skate will give this rink a second look. This proves the inability of our city leaders to listen to their residents who cry bad idea. Honestly, a lot of that money could have gone to something the city needs or even could have gone to the bottom line to help balance the budget without raising property taxes.

7 months ago

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