Kent State Ice Arena conversion sparks local discourse over ice time

Eric Mansfield is assistant vice president of university communications and marketing.

Sean Blevins Reporter

Kent State plans to redesign its recreation rink into a practice facility for the campus marching band, but the decision has left campus organizations, local teams and community parents concerned over the use of the space. 

“This is not about hockey; this is about the community,” leading parent advocate and Kent State alumna Beth Geist said. “The rink has been here for the past 50 years. It’s a staple of the community. That’s why we are trying to save it. I learned how to skate here, my friends did, their friends did. Only over the past year did ice time become an issue like this.” 

This is the second time in the last nine months that the community’s ice time has been limited, the first being in September 2020 due to positive COVID-19 cases. 

The decision to convert the recreation rink is partially due to the City of Kent’s East Main Street Improvement Project, which plans to install a round-a-bout at the intersection of Horning Road and E. Main Street, according to the public notice published by the Office of the University Architect. The addition of this round-a-bout will require removal of the current marching band practice field.

Kent State plans to spend $6.5 million to transform the recreational rink into a new indoor marching band facility, according to the notice. The funds will go toward HVAC upgrades, public restroom renovations and a full roof replacement on the building. 

“After a thorough review of new and existing facilities it was determined that the conversion of one of the two interior rinks (recreational rinks) would provide a strategic location for the new Marching Band Rehearsal Facility near their future outdoor practice field,” the notice stated.

The recreational rink will serve as a rehearsal space for the Marching Golden Flashes, the Flasher Brass and the Glauser School of Music. The space will provide practice and storage rooms as well as faculty office spaces.

Organizations such as the Kent Skating Club, the Kent State Figure Skating Team and many local hockey teams in the area that practice and play at the ice rink regularly are concerned over being displaced. Some parents don’t have the time for extra travelling caused by the closure and that impacts their children’s growth as hockey players, Geist said. 

Geist said this would be a different situation if there was a rink nearby, but there isn’t. She added that those who play hockey typically spend at least one hour at the rink every night and now parents across the region have become less willing to drive their kids to practice because the closest rink is in Chagrin Falls, which is over 20 miles away from the Kent State Ice Arena. 

The decreased ice time has already had a negative impact on the skill development of her three sons, aged eight, nine and 14, who play for youth teams, Geist said.

“There’s no ice rinks within less than a half-hour drive,” Geist said. “There’s not an ice rink in every city. This will be very detrimental to players at all levels if they have no place to play. Something needs to be done.” 

Ilene Flaherty, a sophomore trumpet player in the Marching Golden Flashes, said she and almost all of her bandmates love the idea of switching from practicing outside in the elements to the air conditioned building. 

The weather conditions were a deciding factor when it came to the conversion of the ice arena, according to the public notice. 

“This new facility will provide the ability to have all sections of the marching band rehearse safely indoors simultaneously, which is not possible in their current location,” the public notice stated. “This dedicated facility for the Marching Golden Flashes will not only accommodate the current band but will allow for future growth of this flourishing program.” 

Although Flaherty said she appreciates that the university is giving the band a new facility, she said she feels bad about how the band is moving into a space that wasn’t theirs. 

“I just wish that we could both have our own space,” Flaherty said. “I am one of those people who loves things that accommodate both sides.” 

Geist started a petition urging the Board of Trustees to keep the ice rink open which has nearly 2,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon. 

Eric Mansfield, assistant vice president of university communications and marketing, emphasized that the competition side of the arena will be open for use. 

“Hockey programs will continue to have access to the competition side of the arena, including many local high school teams,” Mansfield said in an email. “The Board of Trustees is expected to vote tomorrow at its meeting on the future renovation to the recreation rink of the ice arena. We will have a press release going out after the meeting.”

The Board of Trustees will vote on the approval of the ice rink renovations during the virtual board meeting Wednesday, June 23 at 8 a.m., according to the meeting agenda. Information about the meeting, along with a Zoom link can be found on the Board of Trustees website

Sean Blevins is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]