New 'welcoming space' links Civic Center and Blue Line Center

People accustomed to the Willmar Civic Center's former entrance may be excused if they stop in front of the window and ask themselves what happened to the doors.

People accustomed to the Willmar Civic Center's former entrance may be excused if they stop in front of the window and ask themselves what happened to the doors.

If they look to the left, they'll see the new entrance leading to the recently completed connection linking the Civic Center and the Blue Line Center.

The nearly $1 million remodeling and construction project encloses the previously open 44-foot space between the two buildings.

One of the improvements created by the project is a spacious new lobby where up to 150 people could gather or socialize without being distracted by the sound of hockey games or other events.

Kevin Madsen, Civic Center operations supervisor, says people entering the new lobby for the first time are amazed at the changes. He says the architects designed a welcoming space with large, south-facing, energy-efficient windows.


"The idea of having a large lobby is what we wanted and what the architects agreed to,'' says Madsen. "That's kind of the way public buildings are designed now. So we're very happy with the large lobby area that we have.''

The floor's colored concrete was extra from construction of the Wal-Mart Supercenter. The city bought the concrete at a discount.

"It's exactly what we wanted as far as durability,'' says Madsen. "We had plans for a stained concrete floor, but the timing was just right for the pouring of the Wal-Mart floor. This turned out to be just exactly what we wanted. The contractor called me and said we have an opportunity here if you'd like, and I took it.''

Once inside the lobby, visitors can buy their tickets and pass through the doors on the right to Cardinal Arena -- home of the Willmar High School Cardinals -- or the doors on the left to the Blue Line Arena.

Other improvements include a new meeting room where the old entrance was located; a new concession stand that's triple the size of the old concession stand; a new customer service, skate sharpening and rental area located in the former concession stand; a dedicated dressing room for the boys' varsity hockey team; and a new room for the coaches.

The Civic Center was built in 1980 and provided the first sheet of ice. The Blue Line Club, which provided the second sheet of ice, was constructed in 1996 with the help of donations from businesses and organizations and a contribution from the city.

The city and Blue Line Club worked together to install the refrigeration equipment needed to provide artificial ice in the Blue Line Center. In 2004, the city took over ownership of the Blue Line Center.

Madsen says the concepts, ideas and plans for connecting the two buildings to form one facility have been around for some time.


"Our desire has been to connect the two facilities,'' says Madsen.

The missing element was the funding mechanism. However, money became available after voters approved and the Legislature authorized the $8 million local option sales tax. Part of the revenue raised by the tax was allocated toward the connection project.

"As soon as we could get our plans drawn by the architects, we were able to start the project,'' says Madsen. Work began in April and was completed around the first of November.

Before the connection was built, hockey players, parents and coaches sometimes braved wind, rain, sleet and snow to make their way between the two buildings. Sometimes players dressed in the Blue Line Center and played in the Civic Center because locker room space was insufficient.

"It was a complicated affair trying to have locker rooms for all the teams,'' says Madsen. "Now we have 13 lockers in the complex and we're able to satisfy all our locker room needs. It's really a good step forward.''

The lobby furnishings include a leather sofa and free-standing gas stove where students can study before they begin hockey practice. Before students had the study area, they'd study in the office and other areas around the arena.

The furniture and stove were provided by Slumberland, Fireside Hearth and Home, Q102 and Torgerson Properties.

"It's an idea we came up with,'' says Madsen. "With this, they have their little spot.''


Madsen says some minor work remains in the Blue Line Center, such as heating and dehumidification, wall insulation and finishing off the locker rooms.

Madsen is proud of the project.

"The contractors did a great job and the architect's plans worked out well.''

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