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Keene ready to sign pact for ice rink

Union Leader Correspondent

November 18. 2013 8:21PM

KEENE — City officials and a nonprofit established by community members are close to finalizing an agreement that would lead to an ice rink opening as soon as next year.

Members of the City Council’s finance, organization and personnel committee unanimously recommended moving forward last Thursday with the project by authorizing the city manager to negotiate an agreement with the non-profit Keene ICE.

About 95 percent of the agreement is worked out, said John Raffensberger, board president of Keene ICE.

Keene ICE would design and construct the ice rink in a city-owned warehouse by the police station at 380 Marlboro Road.

The nonprofit would then manage and operate the facility, which would include a warming/community room named after former Keene mayor Michael Blastos.

In the agreement, the city would allow Keene ICE to use the building under a 25-year contract, which is not a lease.

The agreement includes a city contribution of about $1.3 million, which includes funding the community room and making improvements to the building façade and parking lot, Raffensberger said.

Keene ICE would fund the ice rink and interior improvements, estimated to cost $6.3 million, he said.

“The city would not pay for the indoor improvements or ice equipment,” Raffensberger said.

The city bought the building years ago as part of a plan to centralize police, fire and public works at the location. While police and public works are operating out of the location, it was determined that to keep emergency response time down, firefighters should remain downtown.

So the 55,000-square-foot warehouse has not been used by the city.

Keene ICE plans to use 48,000 square feet of the warehouse, Raffensberger said.

About 4,000 area skaters use Cheshire Arena at the county fairgrounds in Swanzey. The decades old facility is only open from November to March.

“Year-round ice is needed,” Raffensberger said. “All of our ice sports teams are at a real disadvantage.”

He said, “95 percent of the agreement is set in place.”

The City Council could approve the agreement as early as this Thursday. “As soon as City Council approves it ... we can go ahead and start the next steps for Keene Ice.”

Fundraising campaign

The group plans to launch a public fundraising campaign. Local businesses have already raised most of the estimated costs of the project, Raffensberger said.

Somewhere between $700,000 and $1.5 million would need to be raised, he said.

Now we’re waiting for the construction estimates to come back to give us the final estimates,” Raffensberger said.

The construction time is estimated to be between six and eight months, he said. Part of the cost of the rink includes a geothermal heating system and a water-recycling system.

“We’re working very hard to make it as environmentally friendly as possible,” Raffensberger said. “I’m counting on having ice by skating season 2014.”

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