PINE ISLAND — Residents in Pine Island should start sharpening their skates. 

On Tuesday, the Pine Island City Council voted to move forward with helping to operate and maintain the city's outdoor ice rink for the 2019-2020 season. The council unanimously approved a motion to organize volunteers to operate the ice rink and allocate funds to make the job easier for volunteers.

Mayor Rod Steele said providing a place to ice skate is a quality of life issue for Pine Island residents. 

"That's why we asked for this task force," he said, referring to a need to get a group of volunteers to run the rink. "If we get strong support, we'll budget it for next year."

For years, the rink was operated under the community education banner through the Pine Island school district with the Lions Club installing the boards each winter. The warming house and rink, including skate rentals and ice maintenance, were then operated by school district staffers.

But after a pair of school employees who volunteered to staff the ice rink and warming house suffered injuries at the rink, the school district decided to bow out, said Pine Island Schools Superintendent Tamara Champa. 

The school board decided to discontinue it because the liability was too great," Champa said. In fact, workers compensation complaints reached the tens of thousands of dollars level. "We'll be paying for those accidents for a couple of years."

Last winter, with the district bowing out, the ice rink was not put up in Pine Island, leaving no place for local ice skaters. 

City Administrator Elizabeth Howard said that to take over operation of the rink, the city would need a group of volunteers who can make ice during the early morning hours, a warming unit for the shed, gloves and ice cleats for volunteers and timers for both the warming shack and light poles near the rink, which is located on school property. 

Champa said the warming shack and lights were damaged during flooding this past summer. However, the shack is still functional, said Council Member Mike Hildenbrand, as are three of the four light poles. 

Hildenbrand said his children have used the ice rink in the past, and hockey parents should step forward to help maintain the rink this winter for ice making and snow removal.

Community education attendance records at the rink over the years show it's a popular spot, Hildenbrand said. Weekend afternoons see as many as 50 skaters, and a group of adults has been known to play hockey in the evenings.

"We have a history of good outdoor ice in Pine Island," Hildenbrand said. 

Champa said the school would be happy to lease the land for the rink at no cost to the city. "If this is something that's valued deeply by the community, we want to be a part of it and support it," she said. "But we can't take on the liability." 

Steele added that the city simply needs to organize a committee of volunteers and put up the money to get the ice in place. That amount, which will likely cost less than $1,000, he said, will be reviewed by Howard before money is spent.

"We're just looking to get this thing rolling this year because we've got this interruption of service," Steele said. "I think tonight we decide we'll support it."

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