LYNDON — Efforts to re-open Fenton Chester Arena got a boost on Monday.
The Board of Selectmen voted 3-0 to approve up to $25,000 towards the maintenance of the 41-year-old facility.
That work will help non-profit RINK Inc. to re-pen the arena, which was been closed for 18 months due to COVID-fueled financial issues.
“This is a huge piece of the puzzle,” said RINK Inc. director Scott Beck.
The $25,000 would come from the town’s facilities maintenance account, and go towards repairs of the roof, ceiling and the water softening system, replacement of the bathroom fixtures, and electrical code compliance. The Select Board deferred a decision on a new furnace until a later date.
The hope is the state will provide a matching grant, through the state Department of Buildings and General Services, which might provide up to a combined $50,000 for facility projects.
The Select Board broke with tradition and reversed course on a long-standing, unwritten agreement not to fund the arena with taxpayer money.
Explaining why, Select Board Chair Christian Thompson said, “The town needs to do its part and maintain its building. Make it habitable and safe and functional for the next operator of the facility.”
Before doing so, they heard public comments. More than a half-dozen spoke, all in favor of using taxpayer funds on the facility.
“It seems critical to me that we maintain the rink. At the end of the day, this is a town facility owned by the town and we have a duty to maintain our town buildings,” said Adrienne D’Olimpio, adding, “It’s such a critical piece of our town that it would be great if any money that the town has that it could set aside for this project, be set aside for this project.”
The funding is just one piece of the puzzle for RINK Inc.
Short for Rescue Ice Hockey in the Northeast Kingdom, RINK Inc. was formed earlier this year by youth hockey parents to re-open Fenton Chester Arena, the only indoor ice skating facility in Caledonia County.
It is home to the Lyndon Area Youth Hockey Association and three local high school teams (Lyndon Institute, St. Johnsbury Academy, Kingdom Blades Co-operative).
RINK Inc. awaits Select Board approval to take over the lease for FCA. A one-dollar, draft lease agreement was submitted two weeks ago and is under review by town counsel.
In the meantime, RINK Inc. has launched a $35,000 fundraising campaign to afford start-up costs to re-open the rink. Those funds would cover various costs such as liability insurance, staffing, day-to-day operations, and hefty utility bills. In order to reduce those utility bills they have proposed upgrading to a more efficient LED lighting system, with financial support from Efficiency Vermont.
Their goal is to re-open the facility in October for the 2021-2022 season.
Beyond that, RINK Inc. must generate substantial revenue to avoid a deficit. The current leaseholder, Lyndon Institute, reportedly lost $227,00 on rink operations between 2016 and 2021.
In addition to selling ice-time, RINK Inc. aims to generate revenue through advertising sales and business partnerships.