While the Saint Paul City Council is poised to reverse some of the reductions in service proposed by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation as part of its 2021 budget deliberations, the funding for some city ice rinks appears to have melted. Half of the city’s 16 locations that offered outdoor skating, including those at Aldine and Nathan Hale parks and the Linwood Recreation Center, will not have rinks this winter.

Other planned Parks and Recreation budget reductions, including youth sports and recreation center hours, were spared in last-minute amendments that were reviewed by the City Council on December 2. The amendments will be voted on as part of the overall 2021 city budget on December 9.

The skating rink closures were looked at earlier this fall by the council during its budget review process. Since then, Governor Tim Walz’s executive orders have put all rink preparations for the 2020-21 skating season on hold until after December 18. 

City staff will continue to monitor public health guidelines and provide further information once the executive orders expire. Weather and health guidelines permitting, the rinks not affected by budget cuts will be allowed to open.

The loss of some of the rinks is meeting a mixed reaction in local neighborhoods.

“The Linwood Booster Club was not aware of the ice rink being closed due to budget cuts,” said club leader Jodi Boyne. She and other boosters are contacting city staff to see what, if anything, can be done.

skating rink
Teddy Retelle and his dad, Elliott, sharpened their hockey skills in 2018 at Groveland Park, whose rinks are among those scheduled to stay open this winter. Photo by Brad Stauffer

While the Linwood rink is lighted and has a warming room in the center’s lowest level, Nathan Hale and Aldine do not offer such amenities. Cathy Maes, president of the Ramsey Hill Association, said the group was sorry to hear that the Nathan Hale Park rink will not be open this season. Still, she said the association understands the city’s need to cut expenses.

The Union Park District Council’s Environment and Parks Committee had not heard from anyone concerned about the Aldine Park rink not being available this winter, said committee chair Mike Robertson. The neighborhood will still have a rink at Desnoyer Park.

Other rinks slated for closure in 2020-21 are at Battle Creek, Griggs, Hayden Heights, Hazel Park and Northwest Como.

Rinks are scheduled to remain in place at CHS Field, Desnoyer, Edgcumbe, Groveland, Langford Park, North Dale, Palace and Phalen. CHS, Palace, North Dale and Phalen have refrigerated rinks. Groveland, which is supported by neighborhood volunteers, has a general rink, two hockey rinks and a large oval.

McMurray does not have skating, but does have four broomball rinks.

“In general, that kind of partnership is an idea we’ve always embraced,” Merley said. “We understand the budget issues the city faces and we already work together on shared fields.”

Saint Paul used to have dozens of rinks in its parks, including Highland Park, Merriam Park, Dunning Park, the West Seventh Community Center’s park and even on some Public Works land near Ayd Mill Road that was once known as Ashland Park. Some of those rinks were eliminated as their use declined over the years. Volunteers maintained the rinks, with help from city staff to put up and take down hockey boards. 

Parks and Recreation director Mike Hahm told City Council members that his department has had to make difficult budget choices this year. That includes not filling vacant positions and keeping recreational facilities closed for a time to help offset a 2020 budget deficit.

The department was in line for a general fund reduction of nearly 3 percent—about $1.1 million—before the City Council decided to restore $452,870 to its 2021 budget. That money will be divvied up among three priorities.

  • Recreation center hours will be restored. The original idea was to close the centers at 8 p.m. year-round. Now they will remain open until 9 p.m. during the school year and close at 8 p.m. in the summer.
  • Lap swimming and aquatic aerobics will also be restored. Proposed cuts to the aquatics program announced in August sparked a wave of objections.
  • Recreation programs for people of all ages also will be restored. Parks and Recreation had proposed focusing on youth sports only for children ages 8 and younger. The intent was to create partnerships with other sports organizations to offer programs for older children, teens and adults.

Highland-Groveland Recreation Association (HGRA) president Dennis Merley said his group is willing to partner with Parks and Recreation if there is a need to shift sports programs in the future. The HGRA offers soccer, baseball and track programs.

“In general, that kind of partnership is an idea we’ve always embraced,” Merley said. “We understand the budget issues the city faces and we already work together on shared fields.”

The City Council also is adding back $1.5 million for library hours and materials budget in 2021. Parks and libraries are an especially important focus for the council after months of limited or no service due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Those are places people are desperate to get back to as soon as they can,” said Ward 2 City Council member Rebecca Noecker.

—Jane McClure

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