The Martha's Vineyard Arena is hurting. The arena is a bustling recreational center, drawing hundreds of skaters daily throughout the winter. Kurt Mundt, manager of the ice arena, said this week there is a misperception that the arena is thriving financially when it is not.

This is the 26th year of operation, and the goals of the arena's parent organization are being significantly restrained by their financial needs. Maintenance work needs to be done. Projects are sitting on the shelf while the organization figures out ways to pool resources. The arena's struggle this winter isn't about lack of use - it is more popular than ever.

"We are very busy, right in the heart of the season," Mr. Mundt said. "Every program at the arena is in full swing." For the first time there are now four high school hockey teams using the rink as well as adult hockey programs for men and women. The rink opens at 6 a.m. for the earlybird skaters and doesn't close until 10:30 p.m. when the red-eye hockey players go home.

Some of the parents who bring their kids to the rink are themselves veterans of youth programs. Now a second generation of Islanders is spending winters at the rink.

The budget for the facility this year is $340,000. "Every year we've met our budget," said Mr. Mundt. "But it gets harder every year when the expenses climb."

The arena budgeted $72,000 for electricity during its season of 101⁄2 months. "We pray for cold weather. The colder the weather, the less demand on the plant," Mr. Mundt said. In August the bill was $8,000 for electricity, in December it was $5,000. They have an oil heating bill of $5,000 for the year.

But the rising cost of electricity is hurtful.

There are costly maintenance projects, and there is an urgent need to upgrade the facility.

"We are trying now to raise $40,000 to pay off an old debt," Mr. Mundt said. Five years ago the rink borrowed $450,000 from a donor to upgrade the mechanical plant to make it more efficient. This upgrade made it possible for the rink to have a longer season. It included adding insulation to the walls. Partly through fund-raising efforts, Mr. Mundt said, the supporter was repaid. "We borrowed from a bank to pay off the donor," he said.

There will be a need to paint the interior steel in the building, at an estimated cost of $20,000. Mr. Mundt said batteries that operate the Zamboni, the ice cleaning machine, need to be replaced at a cost of $5,000. "They are not dead now, but they won't last," he said.

Last July, state public health officials made their annual inspection before the arena opened for the season. Their conclusions were not too surprising. While the facility passed with flying colors when it came to air quality, there is one remaining issue that haunts the organization. The state officials noted that the locker rooms are inadequate. Ventilation was added this past summer.

The six plywood locker rooms were built shortly after the facility got a roof. "Those plywood locker rooms were intended to be temporary," Mr. Mundt said.

Three years ago, a fund was started to replace the lockers. The fund, named after Ryan Mone, a high school hockey player killed in an automobile crash, is moving ahead. There is already $75,000 dedicated to the project, but the facility needs another $350,000. "We aren't going to start construction until we feel pretty good that we can pay for it," Mr. Mundt said.

An architect has already done the renderings. That new addition will make the facility even better, more efficient and organized. There will be a new entrance to the rear of the rink, new public restrooms and a refreshment stand.

The present facilities at the rink are grossly inadequate, especially during a weekend tournament when hundreds of people come through the front door.

This weekend, several hundred people will use the ice rink. "We are holding a hockey tournament along with a boys' varsity hockey game. Two Vineyard teams are playing. There are six off-Island teams coming here. Players are coming with their families," Mr. Mundt said. It would be nice to be able to offer those visitors better services off the ice.

Thus the ice rink is a busy place, a victim of its own success.

It costs $4 for an hour and a half of public ice skating. Children five years old and younger can skate for free. The income derived from these fees doesn't come close to covering the cost of operation. Mr. Mundt estimates it costs $200 an hour to run the place. User groups are charged $160 an hour, so Mr. Mundt said: "We have to make $40 from other sources."

User groups include the figure skating club, youth hockey and adult hockey.

There are 45 advertising signs hanging on the walls of the arena. Island companies pay a price to exhibit their names, and the money helps defray the operating costs. On Nov. 17, the arena held a Las Vegas Night at the Edgartown Yacht Club and raised $10,000. "We've got more events planned in the future," Mr. Mundt said. "We are looking at ideas to get more financial help."

An ice arena is no different than the family car, Mr. Mundt concluded. "You've got to take care of it. You don't let your car run down. We can't let our rink go down."