Northeast Kingdom rallies to save aging ice rink

Published: Jun. 30, 2021 at 6:21 PM EDT
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LYNDON, Vt. (WCAX) - Could it be the beginning of the end for ice sports in the Northeast Kingdom? The Fenton W. Chester Arena in Lyndon hosts dozens of programs, but now the community is rallying to save the financially-strapped rink from closing.

Though the Fenton W. Chester Arena stands beside his hockey rivals’ Lyndon Institute campus, rising St. Johnsbury Academy senior Gehrig Beck grew up on this rink. “It’s really been part of who I am,” he said.

But Beck, along with hundreds of youth and adults who call the rink home, have skated on the ice since March of last year. The FCA is the only indoor skating facility within an hour’s drive. Since the fall of 1979, it’s been a pillar in Lyndon and surrounding communities, fostering a passion for ice sports throughout the Northeast Kingdom.

The Town of Lyndon owns the facility, but for the past few years, Lyndon Institute was contracted to manage it. “We’d been operating the rink for the last four years at an operational loss every single year, even during the best of terms in the best of times,” said Mike Lowe, Lyndon Institute’s COO.

The institute decided it couldn’t continue to funnel funds into the space. Then, the pandemic hit and the state banned interstate youth hockey sports for the 2020-2021 winter season, and the already thin ice supporting the facility -- cracked.

That’s when a small group of community stakeholders stepped up. “Running a hockey rink is a labor of love,” said Andrew McGregor, whose organization, RINK Inc., is leading the charge to save FCA. He estimates it costs a quarter-million annually to run the arena but it only rakes in about $200,000. Rink Inc is asking the community to pitch in $35,000 to cover the cost to fix decades-old infrastructure including a leaky roof and failing furnace. From there, the arena can bring back athletes and start raising the revenue it requires to keep the lights and the Zamboni on.

“If we aren’t successful in this effort, I fear for the future of skating and hockey in the kingdom. If one thing was clearly demonstrated this last season was that it won’t be successful to try to continue some of these programs, some of these teams,” McGregor said.

Dan Daley of the Town of Lyndon Selectboard says closing the rink would be “tragic.” He says while the Town will do what it can to contribute to the cause, it doesn’t have the budget to take over responsibility of the rink. Daley also says it’s proving challenging to apply for CARES Act money, since the arena doesn’t meet all the requirements in any specific category.

For now, the space sits unused, but stakeholders say they hope to secure the funding and legal rights to the rink to revive and reopen by the end of the summer or early fall.

Donate to RINK Inc. here.

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