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Bismarck parks, schools to move ahead with new ice rink; project likely funded without tax hike

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Multi Use Facility VFW Sports Center

The Bismarck Parks and Recreation District and Bismarck Public Schools are teaming up to add a third ice rink (shown in yellow) to the VFW Sports Center. Planned new parking areas are shown in white at top center and to the upper right.

A multimillion-dollar plan from the Bismarck parks and public school districts to build another ice rink in town is moving forward, and likely without raising taxes.

The Bismarck Parks and Recreation District and Bismarck Public Schools are joining forces to add an additional ice rink to the VFW Sports Center in response to the growing needs of the community. The project adds the extra rink, a concession stand, locker rooms and parking, as well as improvements to one of the two existing rinks in the building. It's estimated to take 22 months to complete.

The school district's funding portion comes from federal coronavirus relief dollars, and the park district's contribution will be funded by a combination of revenue bonds, general fund reserves, proceeds from the sale of facility naming rights and community partnerships. Bismarck youth hockey boosters have also pledged $1 million to the project.

The Bismarck Public School Board voted unanimously Monday night to commit up to $3.5 million to the project. Before the vote, the board heard from district Activities Director Dave Zittleman about the scheduling crunches BPS hockey teams face with limited ice time.

The school board voted last spring to approve a boys hockey team at Legacy High School for the current academic year and a girls hockey team for the 2022-23 school year, but those additional teams stretch already crowded rink schedules even thinner. Some boys teams have to combine varsity and junior varsity practices, leading to 30 to or more players on the ice at a time, Zittleman said. And the BPS hockey teams aren't the only ones who need to use the rink. Youth hockey teams, figure skaters and curlers also need ice time, he said.

The board in response to those scheduling concerns directed district leaders to look into a pilot program that would allow hockey players to practice during the school day and potentially receive a physical education credit.

The Bismarck Park Board voted 4-1 Tuesday morning to move forward with the project and reviewed a draft of the finance plan. Commissioner Mark Zimmerman voted against going ahead with the plan. During the board's discussion of the project, he said he thought the planning had been rushed and that other locations for the rink need to be considered.

Other commissioners said that while they were looking forward to the partnership with the school district, they would have liked to see BPS commit more money toward the rink. The school district plans to use the rest of the federal aid it received for other purposes, including work on Legacy High School and funding for a potential elementary school in southern Bismarck.

Commissioner Mike Gilbertson said the park board should green light the project Tuesday because adding another rink will only get more expensive as time goes on.

"I've lived in Bismarck my whole life, and there just seems to be a prevailing attitude sometimes of 'No, not now, not now...'" he said. "Well, this isn't going to get any cheaper, and the need isn't going to go away."

The park district's funding portion of the project is shaping up to be substantially larger. The addition of the third rink will cost approximately $8.8 million, of which BPS and the hockey boosters are contributing about half the cost. Adding the extra ice rink and expanding the parking lot means the Sheila Schafer Junior Links course has to be relocated, which is estimated to cost almost $2 million, and a clubhouse and a parking lot would run about $2.5 million. Improving one of the existing rinks would be approximately another $3 million.

The plan is to use about $1.4 million in general fund reserves, $6.35 million in revenue bonds and $2.75 million from grants, naming rights proceeds or other sources. The park district can cover bond payments within its current budget, according to Executive Director Kevin Klipfel. Some community organizations such as Dakota Junior Golf Association and Ducks Unlimited have expressed interest in providing funds but have not made formal commitments, he said. The draft financial plan outlines $1.2 million from those groups.

The project now moves into the design phase with Ubl Design Group.

Reach Sam Nelson at 701-250-8264 or


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