CHIPPEWA FALLS — The Chippewa Area Ice Arena is getting a major overhaul at a cost of about $700,000.
“Our north rink has been around since 1977, and we decided it was time to do a face-lift on it,” said Bob Normand, president of the Chippewa Youth Hockey Association, which owns and operates the building. “We’re replacing the boards and bleachers, and we’re adding four new locker rooms.”
New dehumidification equipment is being installed, allowing for some heating to be in the rink, and the roof is getting new insulation. New, brighter LED lights are also being installed.
“Work started in mid-May, and it should be done by mid-September,” Normand said. “We’ll do the installation of the bleachers ourselves, and that should save us money. We have a terrific volunteer base.”
Some of the volunteers include inmates from the Chippewa County Jail who have Huber work release privileges.
“They were great workers,” Normand said. “They worked hard. They’ve been a big help to us.”
The hockey association hosts seven weekend tournaments through the winter. Normand said in recent years he has seen teams come in for tournaments and witnessed their disappointment when they learn they are playing on the older rink rather than the new sheet of ice on the south side of the building. These renovations will make the north side of the building top-notch, he said.
Randy Reeg, Thorp city administrator, has had three children go through the hockey program in Chippewa Falls. He said the work was overdue.
“It’s lived a long and fruitful life, but it’s needed renovations for years,” Reeg said. “It was time to reinvest where we started. The locker rooms were inadequate. Nobody wanted to play a championship game on the old rink.”
Reeg said it is exciting to see the work finally getting underway.
“It’s an aggressive schedule to get it done by fall,” Reeg said.
In May, the Coulee Region Chill of the North American Hockey League announced it was relocating to Chippewa Falls and will be renamed the Chippewa Steel for the 2018-19 season. However, the plans to renovate the rink have been in the works for awhile, and it is simply good timing that the work is happening before the new tenant’s arrival, he said.
“This has been in discussion for four, five years,” Normand said. “We decided we weren’t going to piecemeal it and just do the boards or the lights.”
Normand said they are excited to share the building with the Chippewa Steel.
“Bringing in that team will financially help us,” he said. “I’ve been working with them on the schedule. They have a list of when our tournaments are. They have 28 home games; we gave them 72 possible dates.”
The Steel will generally play Friday and Saturday home games, while high school hockey games are generally on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, he said.
“We’ll fit it all in,” he said.
The Steel also will practice during the middle of the day, when the rink is infrequently used.
Reeg said that the Steel will draw hundreds of hockey fans to the building who haven’t been there before.
Even with the cost for the renovation, Normand said they haven’t raised fees in the building for five years.
Before taking out the $700,000 loan, the hockey association had lowered its debt to less than $100,000.
“Our finance committee is confident we can do this,” he said.
The Chippewa Area Ice Arena is located at 839 First Avenue in the northeast corner of the city.