VALPARAISO | The city's skating rink at Tower Park opened for the first time in two years on Wednesday, but it probably won't be around for long.
Parks Director John Seibert told the Park Board on Tuesday that parks employees started spraying the rink Monday to try to take advantage of the current cold snap. It took more than two days to build up the ice because the ground was still warm from temperatures that were in the 40s over the weekend.
Two years ago the rink set a record for the number of skating days, but it was shut down all last year because of the mild winter. Temperatures again are expected to be higher next week, which is one of the big reasons the plans for the expansion of the Central Park Plaza include a skating rink with refrigeration units.
"Ice skating is part of what we have always offered the community, but we couldn't control it because of the temperatures," Seibert said. "Central Park is something that could be an anchor all year around. We've met that goal for the warmer months, but now we need something for the rest of the year.
"We are fully dependent on the weather without a refrigeration process. The swings in the weather go from cold to unseasonably warm. We can't invest in any kind of equipment, like skates, if we can't depend on the weather. With the downtown rink, we could do that."
The planning committee for the expansion of the downtown park is developing a business plan for the rink and will soon have cost estimates for the project to present to the public. The goal is to raise the money this year from grants, donations, sponsorships and other sources so it can be built in 2014.
"Ice skating is something we can control better than most winter activities if we make the investment in refrigeration," Seibert said. "It's not just about how cold it is at the moment. It's how cold the ground is. It has the value of bringing people together, and, if you connect it with the downtown, it has an economic development aspect."
Even during a cold winter, the season for skating at Tower Park is pretty much over by February because of the higher angle of the sun. For now, the park's ice is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. for family skating and from 7 to 10 p.m. for hockey.