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Mighty Duck grant for Willmar ice system declined by city

File Photo | Tribune The ice refrigeration system at the Cardinal Arena in the Willmar Civic Center broke down in January 2016, causing the ice sheet to melt. To replace the equipment it would cost over $2 million, money the city doesn't have at this time.

WILLMAR — A $100,000 grant from the James Metzen Mighty Ducks grant program to help replace the ice refrigerant systems at the Willmar Civic Center was rejected by the Willmar City Council during Monday's meeting.

The grant was to go towards the $2.4 million project to replace the systems. However, the funds to complete the project are not available.

"It was staff's hope that the Local Option Sales Tax would have passed and we would have a funding source. Today, we don't have that source of revenue," Steve Brisendine, Willmar community education and recreation director said.

If the grant had been accepted the city would have needed to complete the project this year.

"I did not see that as a possibility for us," Brisendine said.

The refridgeration system at the civic center is over 35 years old, and has been having some issues.In January 2016 a chiller in the Cardinal Arena malfunctioned, causing the ice sheet to begin melting. It cost around $20,000 to repair, Brisendine said.

The refrigeration system is in the capital improvement program for 2018.

"Maintenance work done by staff in the past has allowed this system to remain operational," Brisendine said.

The James Metzen Mighty Duck grant was established in 1995 to assist communities in providing ice time and improving ice arena conditions. From 1995 to 2000, $18 million was granted to build new arenas, improve air quality and install new ice refrigeration systems. The Minnesota Legislature gave $10 million to the program for 2016, which was five times larger than the previous year, according to the program's website. Including Willmar's grant, there were 29 grants awarded in November 2016, totaling $2,834,000.

There was some concern from the council that rejecting the grant would hurt the city's chances for future Mighty Duck grants. Brisendine said he had spoken with the program's staff about that.

"They have told me in so many words that this would not hinder future grant applications for this work in the future,"Brisendine said.

Brisendine also said there was a chance that grant program would be restructured to offer larger grants for similar projects.

"City staff believes it is worth our gamble," Brisendine said.

While Brisendine expects the system to continue freezing ice at the Civic Center, there is always uncertainty with old equipment.

"We believe we're still on borrowed time, but the facility has good equipment and will remain operational, but there are no guarantees for a piece of equipment that is 36 years old," Brisendine said.