Repairs mulled for arena roof

HOUGHTON – The Houghton County Arena roof is in dire need of replacement, county and arena officials said.

Houghton County Board of Commissioners members discussed ways to address the project at its meeting Tuesday night.

Replacing the roof on the county-owned building could run from $200,000 to $250,000, said Dave Hermanson, president of the Portage Lake Multi-Educational Services, Inc., the governing board of the arena.

Karin Cooper, architect with U.P. Engineers & Architects, had walked on the roof a couple of years ago. She agreed with Commissioner Scott Ala’s assessment that the roof is at the end of its lifespan. She recalled caulk spanning a joint “this wide,” holding her hands apart.

“Caulk isn’t meant to span a joint that wide,” she said at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Commissioner Scott Ala said the board needs to look at ways to fund the roof project. Asked about the possibility of a Department of Natural Resources grant, Ala said it’s highly sought after.

“We’ve applied for grants like that all the time, and they monitor if you get them, how many years,” he said. “They’ll make you wait before you can get them again, because the dollars are so tight.”

Ryan Markham, treasurer for the arena board, said last year, the board budgeted $33,000 for repairs and maintenance. Revenues and expenses come in at about $180,000, he said.

“It mostly depends on the number of private rental groups that come in there,” he said. “That kind of swings whether we’re in the red or the black on most years.”

Finlandia University and Hancock Central High School pay monthly for ice time used by their hockey teams, as well as for a portion of locker room utilities.

Rick Freeman, a member of the Houghton County Fair board as well as the arena board, stressed the importance of the arena to the fair. The arena rents it for two weeks during the fair period. It’s well-trafficked, especially during rainy periods of the fair, he said.

“The fair really couldn’t operate without that building,” he said.

Freeman and Markham also pointed out the building’s importance to junior hockey in the area.

“Without this facility, the Copper Country Junior Hockey Association really wouldn’t be able to find enough ice time to exist,” said Markham, whose nephew, Tanner Kero, a player who has seen ice time for the Chicago Blackhawks this season, played youth hockey locally both with the CCJHA and Hancock.

Ala said the arena tries to use county money only for exterior or structural improvements. A new ice plant, which will be more expensive than the roof, will be handled by the arena board, he said.

County Administrator Eric Forsberg suggested combining the roof with the steel girders underneath for a single project. He said he would like to see some cost estimates first. He also suggested the arena board do some fundraising in addition to any county funds.

The knowledge of county support makes undertaking such a project easier, Ala said.

“It was never the intent of the fair board or the Portage Lake or myself to come here and put undue pressure on anybody to come up with a decision tonight,” he said. “We’re just looking to formulate some ideas and see which way we want to go, because the need is definitely there.”