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Athletic programs stand to benefit from possible Dickinson Recreation Center expansion

Press Photo by Dustin Monke Plans are being formed to make a $5 million expansion to the Dickinson Recreation Center, shown on Monday. A new addition, which would include another hockey rink, would be located to the south of the current structure, or at the right on this photo.

The talk of expansion to the Dickinson Recreation Center began being tossed around in 2006, two years after the West River Community Center opened.

Those talks are being put to rest and transformed to action.

As part of a proposed $15 million effort by the West River Expansion Committee, another arena could be added to the existing Dickinson Recreation Center.

The Dickinson Recreation Center is home to the Dickinson Hockey Club. The program is looking to grow even larger with the proposed added rink.

"The program is growing so much to the point that we've got so many kids in the small groups that it's good to show those kids and the parents that we're committed to the program," Dickinson head boys hockey coach Tom Folske said. "Overall, it's going to nothing but a huge plus for the program."

The expansion, which would cost about $5 million, would be in conjunction with a fitness and basketball court addition to West River Community Center and an outdoor waterpark.

The preliminary time frame for all three projects to be finished is in the spring 2014 with the arena ready for full-time use when hockey begins in the fall of 2014.

"We consolidated all three (projects) to the West River Expansion Committee," Dickinson Parks and Recreation director James Kramer said. "There are other various groups in there too -- the baseball and softball clubs. We started working with the same architects, same construction managers and all the same consultants that helped with this building (WRCC)."

The addition onto the Rec Center, which was completed in 1991, would be where the existing parking lot is south of the building. It would turn the Rec Center an L-shape. To compensate for the removal of parking, the lot would extend to the north.

An addition won't just include another sheet of ice for the Dickinson hockey teams, but also batting cages and pitching mounds for the Dickinson baseball and softball programs. There would also more space for trade shows, home shows, car shows, circuses and concerts.

"We want to make it into the multi-use space that can enhance the entire community,"?Kramer said. "All those shows are running out of space and this will allow them to double their space."

The funding for all three additions would be a combination of public and private.

"What we still need to work on is what that percentage is of fundraising versus public dollars," Kramer said.

The addition would include changing the building's façade to make it look comparable to the WRCC, a grand lobby, four locker rooms and seating for 300 in the new rink.

"We really want to start to coordinate the look of the entire complex," Kramer said. "We're trying to create some consistency and if all goes well, and the money is available, I think you will see the Rec Center have some of the similar characteristics of the Community Center. It might be in color, building material, landscaping, but all in all we want them to look like they are brother and sister."

The commitment not only caught the attention of the hockey program, but also the baseball and softball programs.

"What it shows is that baseball is taking a big step in the city of Dickinson toward always wanting to be competitive," said Dickinson baseball head coach Pete Dobitz, who has led the Midgets to four state championships in the last 12 years. "It even goes back to the commitment they made over at the Mustang's field to improve their skills at a young age. As they get older, they keep getting better and better."

Dickinson High's recent graduate Brett Braunagel, who was on the Midgets baseball team and is currently playing on the Dickinson Roughriders American Legion team, shares similar ideas about the growth of the baseball program.

"It just makes you more confident when you have nice stuff," Braunagel said. "It's the whole, 'Look good, feel good, play good.'"

West River Expansion Committee chairman Scott Karsky said this extension has been a long time coming. The biggest impact would be to the hockey program.

"The main thing for us is during the season and practice time," he said. "When you have 13 and 14 year olds there until 10:30, 11 p.m., it's really inconvenient and it's not good for their education. We want to get more practice time during regular hours so we aren't overcrowding it."

Michael and Matt Porter, twin brothers who were two of the four seniors on the varsity boys hockey team last season, said hearing about the expansion makes them wish they didn't graduate.

"It kind of makes me upset that I've graduated," Michael Porter said with a laugh. "It will be nice for all younger kids and having a nicer facility will make more kids want to go out."

Comparing similar size programs

In 2002, the city of Brookings, S.D., built the Larson Ice Center, which cost approximately $6 million. Over the years, the Brookings Hockey Association made improvements to the arena, including heated locker rooms and more bleachers.

Since the Larson Ice Center was built, Brookings has won 30 of their 47 state championships. Brookings and the hockey program have been approached by North American Hockey League to bring in the former Alexandria (Minn.) Blizzard. Next year the team will be known as the Brookings Blizzard.

"One of the things that's going to help us as much as anything right now is that we're getting an NAHL team starting this year," Colson said. "When that occurs, that (the Larson Ice Center) will probably be open 10 months out of the year, so that will be a big deal."

Dickinson could be approached with this type of offer in the future with the addition of a new rink and growing population.

However, Karsky said USA Hockey wants more recreational hockey leagues for people in and near the city of Dickinson. The opportunity would give people the chance to play competitive hockey with less travel.

"USA Hockey is really pushing in-house leagues, so the kids don't have to travel so much," Karsky said. "For a lot of kids around town, that traveling isn't an option."

Evolving programs

The three programs who stand to benefit from the Rec Center addition have all seen jumps in numbers in recent years. With that growth is the competitive nature to become a state championship contender.

"I think it will really help, because not only will they have the extra sheet of ice, but they'll have more area," Matt Porter said. "We would have a lot more time to practice and better facilities to do it in."

The idea Colson pointed out was that youth sports don't last just during three or four months of the year anymore. They are slowly turning into year-around activities.

"All youth sports now are no longer seasonal," Colson said. "Everybody sees if you want to be competitive, you have to have that kind of programming available."

Adding another rink on the existing structure would give Dickinson the opportunity to host a state hockey tournament. Currently Dickinson is the only Class A hockey program in the state that doesn't have two rinks.

"The other possibility will be bringing in tournaments into Dickinson," Folske said. "I know with the state for some of the league divisions -- Bantams and Pee Wees -- some towns put on both the A1 and A2, and with two rinks we'll be able to do something like that."

The baseball and softball programs would have their own space allocated for batting cages and pitching mounds during the winter.

The hockey program would have the chance to use the new rink during the summer months for camps and extended ice time.

Stratmoen said the Brookings hockey program's summer ice time has evolved into a nine- to 10-month operation.

"It's allowed us to offer several camps for our skaters and other skaters in the area," he said. "It's been a development opportunity for our kids through the camps."

Dobitz said it's an indication of how much the city believes in the hockey, baseball and softball programs.

"The more facilities you have, the more opportunities kids have to get better and improve their skills," Dobitz said. "It's a wonderful project if we can get it available for the kids.

"Now other people are coming to Dickinson to see what our facilities look like and learn how to improve their facilities. That speaks volumes for what Dickinson has done for the sport of baseball."