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Rink of dreams: West River Ice Center changing the way Dickinson skates

The Dickinson Recreation Center received a multimillion-dollar facelift, renovation and extension last year. With the finished product in place, the facility has a new name -- the West River Ice Center. The extension to the former Dickinson Recre...

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Press Photo by Royal McGregor Dozens of people enjoy a public skating session on Feb. 8 at the West River Ice Arena’s new rink, which opened last October.

The Dickinson Recreation Center received a multimillion-dollar facelift, renovation and extension last year.
With the finished product in place, the facility has a new name - the West River Ice Center.
The extension to the former Dickinson Recreation Center includes another sheet of ice, a lobby that resembles the West River Community Center, conference rooms, four more locker rooms, a new compressor, another Zamboni for cleaning the ice and permanent seating for 300 fans.
“This was a project that was in the works for a long time, even though it took a while to complete,” said James Kramer, director of Dickinson Parks and Recreation. “When the hockey club constructed the original recreation center in the early ’90s, there was always discussion of a second sheet of ice. With the recent increase in population and the demand on the hockey side, but the dry side with private rents for events and shows, we felt it was the right time to take on the project.”
The WRIC took 14 months to complete, beginning in August 2013 and wrapping up in October 2014, right at the cusp of hockey season.
The final cost for the extension was $9.8 million. Due to extended construction costs and slight modifications, the project was nearly $1 million more than the original estimate,” Kramer said.
“Some of these projects were renovations and anytime you do a renovation compared to a new construction there always seems to be more complications. The weather during the construction phase was very difficult. The spring was wet and it was a long, cold winter. The construction season took longer than what we had hoped. We were excited to finally be done and move on to the operational side.”
Jim Deibert, the facilities manager at the WRIC, said it was a sigh of relief when the project was finished.
However, with another sheet of ice, the workload has doubled.
“Those 40 hours a week pile up pretty quick,” Deibert said with a smile.
Kramer said the reception from the public - which includes Dickinson residents and people around the state - have been positive.
“The old building didn’t have a real public feel to it,” Kramer said. “The lobby, public restrooms, the waiting area and the look from the outside has more a community center feel to it now. The people really appreciate having this gathering space. The people that have come to town for hockey have been really impressed with the facility and the way that the two sheets are functionable. You are going to see Dickinson hosting multiple state tournaments in hockey because of that.”
Dallas Kuntz - the Dickinson High boys head hockey coach and hockey operations manager for the Dickinson Hockey Program - said as the construction process continued to take place, the excitement for the new facility began to mount.
When the ice rink officially opened in October, Kuntz said it was like Christmas morning.
“I remember the first day the ice was open,” Kuntz said. “Jim was running around making sure that everything was OK. Instead of looking under a tree, we were walking into this huge, brand new facility.”
Dickinson High girls hockey coach Al Takle said it was amazing to see the transformation from the former Dickinson Recreation Center to the WRIC.
“It was a really big deal,” he said about the facility being completed. “I’ve been with the hockey program for a long time. It was something that we’ve been working toward for a long time. My role has been trying to grow the sport here in Dickinson. Our ability, as we grow as a hockey program, is to have enough kids to fill two rinks. That was really a big deal for us.”
The first time Kuntz set foot in the new facility - before it was fully finished - he saw the endless possibilities.
“The whole construction process was always in everybody’s mind, because we had to use different entrances to get into the building,” Kuntz said. “Throughout the construction process, no one could access the new part, so we didn’t know what was going on. You saw the blueprints, but a person didn’t actually have an eye’s view of what was over there until some of the interior stuff was completed. Then we did a couple walk-throughs with the Parks and Recreation (department). Everybody in the hockey club opened their eyes and said, ‘Wow, look at this facility we have to operate in.’ It has been awesome.”
Public skate a priority

One of the possibilities for the WRIC is to have more public skating sessions.
In the past, with only one sheet of ice, public skate was - at times - cancelled or moved due to hockey games being rescheduled.
This isn’t a problem anymore as public skate takes place each Tuesdays and Fridays from 7-9 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Dickinson Recreation and Facilities Manager Ryan Nelson, who is in charge of scheduling events at the WRIC, said the new expansion isn’t just a benefit for the hockey program, but to the rest of the community.
“Public skate has been phenomenal with very good turnout,” Nelson said. “It has really picked up this year for the fact with the two sheets of ice. Public skate doesn’t get bumped because of games. In the past, we might have went a month without a Saturday public skate. We are talking 200 to 300 people a night.”
Kramer said it was unfortunate to bump public skate time as the needs for the Dickinson Hockey Club took precedence.
“Because the rink was so scheduled for hockey, if there was a scheduling conflict, we would have to cancel public skate,” Kramer said. “There were years where we would lose a third of our public skate sessions. Now, we don’t have to do that. Our public skate numbers are through the roof this year.”
Benefits for the hockey club

With the additional sheet of ice, the Dickinson High boys and girls hockey teams don’t have to worry about setting an alarm for early morning practices.
Before the second sheet of ice opened, the boys and girls would take turns practicing before school - they switched every month - which wasn’t conducive for high school students due to homework, other extracurricular activities, and especially if the team played the night before.
Takle is happy the team has a set practice time after school.
“It has been huge for us not to have morning practices,” he said. “We are able to get in a rhythm of practices after school, which has really helped the kids as hockey players and as students.”
Kuntz agrees with Takle on the benefit of not having to wake up early.
However, Kuntz said the extra sheet of ice doesn’t just help the high school players, but also younger kids.
“In years past, our 13- and 14-year-olds and our bantam boys would be here until 11 p.m.,” Kuntz said. “It has been nice in the fact that the rink can close before 10 p.m. every night.”
Spring and summer activities
Though ice has been part of the WRIC since it opened in October, the extension hasn’t seen the second half of its purpose - holding trade shows and conventions during the spring and summer months.
A couple of the biggest events scheduled for the WRIC are home show and oil show that use will the entire facility. Kramer said home show outgrew the old arena long ago and now both venues can be used to double the size of the event.
“It’s really booked for the summer with different events,” Nelson said. “Most of the events are strictly main arena, but what it allows us to do is youth programs in the summer. It eliminates a lot schedule conflicts. We move youth activities to the new arena in the spring and summer.”
With a new extension, there are always trial and error in the first couple of years.
Kramer said he expects nothing less.
He knows nothing will run completely smooth at first, but said the arena allows Parks and Recreation opportunities to fix little hiccups and give the city of Dickinson a top-of-the-line facility.
“Going into the spring with some of these shows, there’s a lot of setup and there’s a lot take down,” Kramer said. “Some of it is overnight and now we have twice the floor space. We are going into this the best that can. It’s an unknown until you get through the season once, then you know what you need to tweak. It’s a little bit of an experiment.”
Not done yet

The expansion might be finished, but Kramer said the WRIC original arena will also receive a couple modifications.
“The next step - and we’ve already had conversations with the city on how we can accomplish it - is to take the old rink and make that look like the new rink,” he said. “Flooring, paint, dehumidification system, things that. That’s all that’s left though, and other than that, everything is caught up. There are some finish components that need to be done to make the two match and look right.
“We have started those discussions,” Kramer said.

Meet the man behind the ice, West River Ice Center facilities manager Jim Deibert,  here .
McGregor is the sports editor of The Dickinson Press. Call him at 701-456-1214 and tweet him at SirRoyal.

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