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City reaches agreement with Bemidji Community Arena officials for summer ice

An agreement was approved between the city of Bemidji and the Bemidji Community Arena Corp. on Monday for residents to have access to an ice facility in the summer. Additionally, the city approved maintenance to the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues.

Bemidji Community Arena entrance 2020.jpg
The entrance to the Bemidji Community Arena was given a new look with new landscaping in 2020. (Submitted photo)

BEMIDJI -- Local residents will have a space to skate this summer thanks to a new agreement between the city and the Bemidji Community Arena Corp.

On Monday, the Bemidji City Council approved an agreement to form a community indoor ice arena plan. The agreement will allow renters to use one of the ice sheets at the Bemidji Community Arena from April 1 to Sept. 1.

As part of the agreement, the BCA will make all reasonable attempts to provide access and rent ice to traditional renters, such as the Bemidji Figure Skating Club, hockey youth leagues and clinics, high school hockey booster clubs and adult hockey leagues. Additionally, an amount of ice time will be made for public access and parental instructional skating.

The BCA is a 101,000 square-foot ice complex with two sheets. Construction began on the first section, titled First National Arena, in 2000. Then, in fall 2020, the new section, with the Sanford POWER Rink, started operation.

The BCA is home for the Bemidji High School's boys and girls hockey programs, as well as Bemidji youth hockey.

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The city, meanwhile, owns Neilson Reise Arena, which was born in 1964. The building has two sections, one is a 28,500 square-foot space with an ice rink. The other is a 19,000 square-foot section that's home to the Bemidji Curling Club. The rink portion has been the Bemidji Figure Skating Club.

For most of 2020, Neilson Reise was dormant because of the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, machinery in the facility is outdated, as the equipment for the rink uses R-22 refrigerant, which isn't produced anymore because of environmental concerns. The arena does have some R-22 for the future, but it's a finite supply.

With questions lingering with Neilson Reise, the city chose to meet with the BCAC to determine how to provide summer ice. As part of the new agreement, the city is moving the manager of Neilson Reise to handle operations of public ice time at the BCA. The city will also work with the BCAC to provide ice rental scheduling software.

Paul and Babe conservation

Another community subject for the Bemidji City Council on Monday was the maintenance of the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues. During the meeting, the council approved a conservation project for the statues in downtown Bemidji at a cost of $24,500, with work expected to be completed in late April or early May.

The statues were built in the late 1930s and have been standing in downtown Bemidji since then. Paul Bunyan is 18 feet tall, while Babe stands at 10 feet, and the statues are on the National Register of Historic Places.

On Monday, the council approved Jensen Conservation Services to work on the statues. The company also did similar work on the statues in 2007.

The council also approved working with the firm Freeberg and Grund Engineering at a cost of $8,950 to work develop a plan to deal with draining water away from the plaza around the statues. This will help prevent water pooling in the plaza, which can cause erosion.

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