The only ice on most people’s minds in the summertime are the cubes floating in their glass of lemonade or cocktails.
But a peek inside the Martha’s Vineyard Ice Arena on a hot August morning indicates that there is more to summer ice. Elementary schoolers skate in a youth hockey clinic run by Boston College and the University of Connecticut. A girl in a purple Martha’s Vineyard Figure Skating School outfit pushes open the glass door to the back lobby, and a Zamboni slides across the surface of the rink. Parents sit in the stands and watch their children practice.
For the past 40 years the arena has been a gathering place for Island families, a place where rink rats grew into hockey and figure skating stars, finding their own community on the ice. New generations mastered the wrist shot and the Salchow. They came back for alumni games. Their parents joined the board of directors.
There was a time when the arena was little more than a flooded field. A well-maintained flooded field, but a field nonetheless. In 1974, a group of volunteers who would become the first board of directors led an effort to build a wall around the rink. Donations trickled in, and eventually a roof was built over the ice. Later, the arena was enclosed, and a back lobby built. New Plexiglass boards replaced the original plywood around the rink. A tubing system was installed to cool the ice.
In keeping with the spirit that built it, the arena today remains a product of generosity. Volunteerism is a central part of its identity and a crucial factor in keeping it afloat. That was especially true this year. Determined to keep rates low and maintain the arena’s debt-free status, the board of directors jumped in this year to provide hands-on help to maintain the facility and its programs. They ran the clock during games, assisted with public skating sessions and sold advertisements. They even stepped in to help with scheduling and supervision, which has lessened the stress on the overall budget, said board president Jim Kelleher. The broader hockey community pitched in as well. More than 40 people, including a number of players in the men’s hockey league, turned out for a volunteer day in May. They replaced rotting boards in the warm room, using lumber donated by Hinckley, repainted the entire front of the building, and cut back weeds.
“It looks fantastic,” Mr. Kelleher said. “It saved us thousands and thousands of dollars.”
Architect Ken McLean, who also referees games at the arena, spearheaded a mission to repaint the stands inside the arena. The stands were built in 1996 and are still sturdy, but were shored up over the past year and now shine with new coats of purple and white paint.
“There’s a lot of people that are involved,” Mr. Kelleher said. “They want to get their hands dirty.
“They know we’re up against it with our energy costs,” he added.
The problem of energy efficiency has dogged the arena for years. Most of the operating cost for the arena comes from its electricity bill, which exceeds $100,000 per year. Although propane accounts for a portion of energy costs, the majority comes from electric bills to keep the ice cool.
When the roof was first built, it wasn’t insulated and remains in that state today. More recently, it began to show leaks as well.
“We’ve had some patching done, so we’re okay for now,” Mr. Kelleher said. “We had a pretty good rain last week and we didn’t have any leaks over the ice.” The primary concern, he said, is insulation. The board also hopes to install photovoltaic panels on the replacement roof to offset energy costs.
At last estimate, the total cost for the roof project was $400,000. Thanks to a recent $50,000 grant from the Vineyard Golf Club, the fundraising campaign is about $150,000 away from its goal.
The campaign began in 2011, but financing the roof has nevertheless taken a back seat to basic costs of running the rink. This year, a new $7,000 edger for the ice was purchased, and a wheel in the dehumidification machine will need replacing soon, at a cost of between $27,000 and $30,000. A new facilities manager, Eric Bruguiere, came on board earlier this summer. Mr. Kelleher said that eventually the plan is to have both a facilities manager and an arena director, who would work on fundraising and program development.
“We’re still pushing for the roof, but...we also have to keep the building open for our users,” Mr. Kelleher said.
“We’re just trying to keep the place at a good cost,” Mr. Kelleher said. “We want to make hockey affordable and figure skating affordable.
“After Ice Savours, we’ll see if the place can run itself,” he added.
The arena’s annual Ice Savours fundraiser, now in its 14th year, takes place Thursday, August 21, at Farm Neck Golf Club. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres begin at 6 p.m. A live auction emceed by comedian Lenny Clarke begins at 7:15 p.m.
Ice Savours initially began as a way to raise money for locker rooms at the arena. A 2004 Gazette article described the fundraiser as “an event to be savored, at which savory hors d’oeuvres are served to the Ice Arena’s saviors.” Last year’s auction raised about $100,000.
Although there are several fundraising events throughout the year benefiting the many programs hosted at the rink, Ice Savours is the only one that benefits the arena itself. Planning begins in earnest about six months before the event, said co-organizer Meredith Goldthwait.
This year’s auction features a sail on Nat Benjamin’s schooner Charlotte and a book group discussion session with author Robin Cook. Jan Buhrman of Kitchen Porch Caterers donated not one but two paellas-for-ten. Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots and New England Revolution tickets are also up for grabs.
But Mrs. Goldthwait said she was particularly struck by two contributions from young Vineyarders. Regional high school graduate Tony Grillo, a captain of the golf team who went on to play for Harvard and now works for the Professional Golfers Association Tour, contributed two tickets to the PGA Players Championship.
High school alum and former varsity hockey captain Stephen Greenberg, who was the student manager for Boston College’s hockey team and now works for NBC Sports, donated four tickets to a Boston Bruins game. The package includes a tour of NBC’s live feed truck.
“I love those,” Mrs. Goldthwait said. “It’s two kids from our high school who have moved on and are working in the sports arena they love, and they’re returning to give back to the community.”
That is, after all, the ice arena way.