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End of an era: Free ice rink closes permanently amid financial challenges

The Kent Skates ice rink was once located on East Erie Street in downtown Kent between Route 59 and South Depeyster Street. 
KentWired Files
The Kent Skates ice rink was once located on East Erie Street in downtown Kent between Route 59 and South Depeyster Street. 

The once-thriving, free outdoor ice skating rink in downtown Kent, established by a host of community sponsors, has announced its permanent closure. The rink, which provided a cool escape for families and individuals during challenging times, has fallen victim to the rising costs that accompany maintaining such a unique community space.

It was originally hailed as a creative solution to encourage outdoor activities while adhering to social distancing measures. It was sponsored by pillars of the community, including the city of Kent, Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center, Kent Area Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Kent, and Kent State University as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Throughout its time downtown, families and friends of the Kent community found community in the rink.

However, the financial burden of maintaining the rink has proven insurmountable, according to Dana Lawless-Andric, associate Vice President of University Engagement & Outreach.

“Some of it was things even like electricity right, like the things you don’t realize, you don’t think about, like to run the chiller 24/7. The cost of materials alone, just you know because we build stuff out and then the cost of labor,” Lawless-Andric said.

Rising costs in energy, maintenance, and staffing have outpaced the initial budget, she said, leaving sponsors with no choice but to close the gates permanently.

According to Lawless-Andric, the decision stemmed from a strategic reassessment, emphasizing the necessity to prioritize needs over wants. A careful examination of expenditures highlighted the imperative to streamline resources and redirect funds toward essential priorities.

“When you have constrained resources and priorities, you have to make tough choices,” Lawless-Andric said. “Our president has been really focused on investing in his people and if it’s between the ice rink and supporting people or scholarships for students, that’s the decision he needs to make,” Lawless-Andric said.

City officials, while regretting the closure, emphasized the ongoing challenges posed by financial constraints, she said.

“This past year, some of our primary sponsors, the city and the university budgets are all tighter and you have to make priority decisions based on that,” Lawless-Andric said. “And as much as I think we all loved it, it was very much a want and not a need, so you have to make tough decisions.”

Efforts to secure additional funding or partnerships to keep the rink afloat proved to be futile at the time.

Lawless-Andric offered a preliminary cost estimate for adequately preparing for a comparable situation in the future. She said several hundred thousand dollars would be needed to put an operation like this back in play.

Lawless-Andric said, for what it was intended for, free skating served its purpose.

“You know it wasn’t necessarily designed to be a forever thing,” she said. “It was more of, ‘hey, let’s do this now and see where it goes, out of necessity of a pandemic’. And it’s not safe for everyone to be commingling, but also it’s not safe to be by yourself all the time either.”

As the sun sets on the once-bustling ice rink, we should collectively reminisce about the happiness and unity experienced, anticipating fresh chances to forge enduring memories ahead.

Lawless-Andric said she is optimistic about future possibilities.

“My hope is down the road, who knows what the future holds,” she said. “Kent has a vibrant parks and rec, so maybe they decide in their future that this is something if their community wants it, that they’re like ‘OK we [want to] find a way to bring it back.’ I don’t know what that looks like, but I think all of us are hopeful something could happen in the future.”

Ed Bankston is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected].

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    Doug WagenerNov 29, 2023 at 11:52 am

    Dana Lawless-Andric, associate Vice President of University Engagement & Outreach, should be fired for – as Strother Martin once said as prison camp superintendent in the movie COOL HAND LUKE – her “failure to communicate”. I’m sure her speech was recorded and transcribed; nevertheless, her remarks are pathetic, ? This is to say nothing of the fact that the university’s stranglehold on public access to its ice arena was a huge factor in the creation of the downtown rink.