Ice arena is Juneau's first public-access sports facility in 30 years

PHOTO/Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Juneau’s first public-access athletic facility to be constructed in about 30 years celebrated its grand opening Feb. 22 amid figure skaters, hockey players, and ice lovers galore.

The 31,900 square foot Treadwell Ice Arena was designed by Wayne Jensen, an architect and co-owner of Juneau-based architectural firm Jensen, Yorba, Lott Inc., and was developed by Coogan Construction.

Jensen said the facility, which includes an Olympic-sized hockey rink and 10 miles of refrigeration piping, would be nondescript were it not for one architectural quirk.

"It’s just a big metal building, it’s really only unique in that it’s built on piling," he said.

The plot is set on a former beach in Douglas’ Savikko Park, which, Jensen said, made the soil difficult to work with. But, with some engineering expertise and a separate foundation for the ice slab, developing the arena was a success, he said.

"The building itself is built on 25 foot pilings, which made a lot of sense since the land was not secure," he said. "The slab of ice is set on a grid that’s 14 feet (deep) on center, and there’s a steel plate over the piling with refrigeration tubing and two layers of reinforcement. So the ice is literally floating on the piling and floating on the ledge."

The $3.5 million facility, which was slated to be built for $1.5 million and be completed last November, was paid for through a combination of sales taxes and grants and donations, according to Myiia Whisler, the interim arena manager. About $2.2 million of that came from taxpayers, while $1.3 million, or 38 percent of the funding, resulted from gifts to the effort.

"We were planning on opening a bare bones facility last fall, but a grant added a dehumidifier, paved roads, four locker rooms, and our HUV (ventilation) unit," she said. "It seems like it’s late, but when you consider that we started less than a year ago, it’s just fine."

Whisler noted that Treadwell is also the community’s only permanent ice arena, and, as of press time, the only winter sport available to the community.

"It’s a need. People are happy to have something to do," she said. "It’s nice to come inside and wear your warm clothes and pretend it’s winter."

The rink’s grand opening was Feb. 22, but it had been open since Feb. 6 to let the staff iron out the wrinkles. It’s a practice called "soft opening," and it’s a good thing that the crew of seven had the chance to have such a practice, Whisler said. Everyone on staff was surprised by the immediate popularity of the arena, she said.

"Our first weekend was wild," she said. "We had to turn people away on Sunday."

An average of 300 people hit the ice on each weekend day, and the total capacity of 570, including the metal bleachers, has been close to being met, she said. Within its first week of soft opening, the arena’s closing hours had been pushed back to accommodate the groups that wanted to utilize the facility.

"We’re already moving into our late evening schedule. You hear legend of the midnight hockey games and early-morning practices, and now they’re starting to look real," she said.

The arena is scheduled to be open to ice skaters from September through April, when the ice will be melted and the space can be used for rollerblading, roller hockey, tennis, basketball and concerts, Jensen said. If there is enough demand for the ice arena in the summer, however, the Parks and Recreation Department will consider keeping it open all year.

02/23/2003 - 8:00pm