West St. Paul crosses funding blue line for Hoene Arena

West St. Paul hopes to partner with School District 197 and Mendota Heights to renovate John V. Hoene Arena, the home ice for the Henry Sibley High School Warriors. (Photo courtesy of the city of West St. Paul)

City hopes 197, Mendota Heights join the rush

Since 1971, the West St. Paul Arena, also known as the John V. Hoene Arena, has been the place to go for indoor ice skating in the southwest St. Paul area. 

But age — and new regulations — have propelled Hoene into a cooling crunch.

In light of the U.S. EPA's crackdown on R-22 — the cooling chemical used in more than 100 rinks across the state cannot be imported after 2020 — and the aging cooling system at Hoene, planners say this is the time to replace the entire system.

It won't be cheap.

West St. Paul has taken the lead in studying the issue, and estimates replacement will cost just under $2 million.

But, faced with the EPA phase-out — carbon dioxide or ammonia systems don't deplete the ozone like R-22 — arena owners may not have a choice.   

'Simply old'

One big part of it is the failing cooling system within the building

"It's simply becoming an old building," said city manager Matt Fulton. However, he adds, there are no plans to replace Hoene itself. "There's a lot of history with this building."

State legislators have been aware of the high price tags some communities will have to pay to renovate their arenas, and are tailoring the "Mighty Ducks" arena legislation to help. In West St. Paul's case, the state may be able to offer $200,000.

"Through the process of this project analysis, the state of Minnesota is attempting to provide resources to communities to change out the Freon-R-22 system, because of the environmental impact," Fulton said.

Because of the cost, West St. Paul council members voted "yes" to fund a third of the renovation, but made approval contingent on having equal input from Mendota Heights and School District 197, which also use Hoene. 

If all the factors don't fall into place, the area may lose the arena.

"We would like to preserve hockey in the city if possible," said West St. Paul Mayor John Zanmiller. "We see it as a benefit to the community — something to offer the youth all the way up to high school and adult leagues. Our options are few." 

Council members Dick Vitelli and Jenny Halverson said they have both been looking at a number of avenues to try to get the project underway, both in a cost-effective and long-term standing way. 

"I've been a strong proponent of doing something for hockey in West St. Paul," Vitelli said. "Jenny (Halverson) and I have been pushing this along to do something, but I do recognize that we already do contribute out of our budget."

He said the city's goal should be to have an ice arena that will last another 20 years, instead of doing a quick fix and then having to budget for more fixes every year. 

Vitelli and Halverson also proposed adding improved locker rooms to the motion. Ultimately, it was decided any changes to locker rooms will have to be considered later. 

Council members also pointed out that a study of use rates show West St. Paulites use the arena at a rate of 21 percent, while Mendota Heights residents use it at a 56 percent clip — despite Mendota Heights having a population half the size of West St. Paul's. 

Seeing that, Council Member Ed Iago said asking Mendota Heights to pay a third of the price tag is more than reasonable.

"It's a gift. A third is a gift, and we're still carrying the brunt of it."

You can reach Tim Faklis at 651-748-7814, at tfaklis@lillienews.com, or on Twitter @tfaklisnews.

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