By Sue Botos
The Rocky River High School hockey team reached the “Frozen Four” state semifinals for the first time since 1979 despite having to make do with locker rooms at their home, Hamilton Ice Arena, that predate that year. Over the years, there has been discussion about improving the locker area, but thanks to a group of hockey supporters, the Pirate icemen may soon have a facility that reflects their top-notch play.
“We have had a significant level of support from the city. They (city officials) are committed to the project,” parent Dave Mallet told the school board at its June meeting.
At a meeting in December, Mallet, Pirate hockey coach Chris Cogan and other parents approached the board with the request that new locker space be constructed for the high school team, which currently shares facilities with city hockey programs and teams from other communities. The group pointed out that, due to passage of the capital improvements bond issue in 2010 and the accompanying renovation of the high school, state-of-the-art locker rooms have been constructed at the school, while the Pirate icers have put up with facilities that can only house equipment for 10 players out of a 35-man roster.
A major issue for the project, which in December was estimated to cost $250,000, is the fact that the ice rink is owned by the city, and the hockey team is affiliated with the school district. Mallet told the board that he and his group have met with Mayor Pam Bobst and finance Director Mike Thomas, who have given total support to the project.
Mallet said that a lease agreement must be drawn up between the schools and the city, the details of which will be hammered out over the summer. Tentative meetings with Bobst, Thomas and city law Director Andy Bemer are being set up with Superintendent Michael Shoaf, the schools’ legal counsel and other school administrators.
“We’re very interested in this and we’re willing to work with them, but other (city groups) must have access,” commented Bobst. She said that when funding is secured for the project, the city will take it to bid.
Private funding will play a big part in the project, and Mallet reported that he hopes to raise $50,000 by the end of the summer. So far, he said, $30,000 has been contributed. He added that the selling of naming rights is another money-raising possibility.
“We didn’t want to get the 501 designation,” said Mallet of the expense involved in securing tax-exempt status for his group. He added that city officials assured him that he could use the Parks and Recreation 501 if needed.
The group has been working on the project for about a year, but Mallet said it has been “kept under wraps” until commitments were made from the city and schools. “At this point we’re full speed ahead pending architectural drawings,” he said. The drawings are expected to be completed in July, at which point a more concrete budget can be set.
Shoaf questioned who would be responsible for any construction overages if the cost of the project were split between the city and schools. He said that the district “ate the overages” when a turf field was installed at the high school. In a type of reverse situation, the city leases the field from the schools for various recreation events.
Mallet said that he felt the city would cover any overages.
Bobst commented, “The city is not in a position to move forward on the project without financing in place.”
Parks and Recreation Director Chris Mehling agreed with Mallet, that the city and schools will both benefit from the renovation. While outside groups will not have access to the proposed locker area, youth hockey players will get a taste of the Pirate program by using the facility.
“This will not only boost our youth hockey program, but some players that may be looking at other opportunities at parochial schools and the like may stick around,” he stated in a phone interview. He said, for example, that St. Edward High School, known as an area hockey powerhouse, has dedicated locker space at Winterhurst Ice Rink in Lakewood.
Mehling said that preliminary drawings have sparked some ideas for the locker area, which is proposed to be 40 by 60 feet in area. Part of the agreement with the schools, he noted, allows access by the city recreation department for events such as the biannual ice show.
Although he declined to name a ballpark budget amount for the project, Mehling stated that preliminary work has been based upon the $250,000 number mentioned in December.
Mallet said that the objective, while “ambitious,” is to have the new locker rooms finished in time for this year’s seniors to enjoy the facility.