Vineyard Ice Arena Launches Final Step in Expansion Drive

By JOSHUA SABATINI

After more than 20 years of undergoing structural improvement in stages, the Martha's Vineyard Arena is just one step away from becoming a first-rate facility.

That final step is the addition of locker rooms with showers and bathrooms. With just a little bit of financial help, arena patrons will see the facility's final piece put into place.

The project cost is set at about $800,000. To date, about $400,000 raised in the last three years sits in a fund for the construction project.

This Friday at the Hot Tin Roof from 5 to 8 p.m., the second annual Ice Savours benefit will bring the arena still closer to its goal. The evening will include tasting of fine wines and delectable hors d'oeuvres as well as music by John Alaimo and Michael Tinus.

A number of items will be auctioned off, including a trip for two to the 2003 Super Bowl in San Diego and "Palm Beach Golf" at Vineyard Golf Club with retired Boston Bruin Cam Neely.

The construction of the locker rooms is in memory of Ryan Mone, a member of the high school ice hockey team who died in a car accident in 1998, at the age of 17.

Mr. Mone's career on the ice illustrates the importance the arena plays in the lives of Island youth. He began his skating as a mite in the youth league, one of the many programs the arena hosts.

Kurt Mundt, general manager for the arena, said there is enough money to at least get the project under way this fall. Construction permits have already been taken care of, he said.

The proposed addition is 220 feet by 20 feet, along the wall behind the players's benches.

"For users this will give them the final piece of the puzzle," said Mr. Mundt.

Over the years, the arena has enriched the Island community by providing a venue for the high school girls' and boys' hockey programs, youth hockey leagues, figure skating clubs, adult skating clubs and public skating sessions. For those involved in the arena over the years, this latest evolution will put the finishing touches on the dream.

Donald Lambert, one of the forces behind the original construction of the arena, said he is "pleased as punch" by the latest development. Mr. Lambert remembered back to 1973, when he gathered together a group of Island citizens to build a community civic center and ice rink.

To play hockey back then, something he loved to do, he had to travel all the way to Falmouth.

He was appointed as the first president of the arena and formed a nonprofit organization to raise money for the project. In 1974, the regional high school donated 3.2 acres of land off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road for the arena.

The rink was up and running in the early 1980s. But then it was just an open air rink, susceptible to outdoor elements. In 1987, the rink was enclosed to shelter skaters from chilly winter winds and block out warm breezes that used to thaw the ice.

In 1993, a dehumidification system was installed into the now fully enclosed facility, so the skating season could extend into the summer. The rink now remains open from mid-July to mid-April.

Sam Sherman, a member of the arena board of trustees and head coach of the high school girls' varsity hockey team, drafted the proposed addition to the arena.

He said the existing locker rooms - crude plywood structures without bathrooms or showers - are "horrible and embarrassing."

Mr. Sherman said the plans call for the construction of four youth hockey locker rooms, two locker rooms for the high school girls' and boys' teams, a first aid room, two offices for coaches, a storage area and mechanical area.

There will be an adequate number of bathrooms and showers for the locker rooms, and new public restrooms for men and women will be installed.

Mr. Mundt said users of the ice rink must be charged so the arena can cover the facility's yearly operational costs, estimated at $300,000. "In return," he said, "we should be able to give them the off-ice amenities."

Mr. Mundt said if the project goes through, the facility might become an attraction for National Hockey League teams seeking a neutral rink in which to practice. In the mid-1990s, the NHL's Winnipeg Jets visited the Island during an East Coast trip and actually practiced at the arena.

Similar visits, he said, would add to the Island's winter economy; Islanders might be allowed to watch any such practice sessions at no charge.

In either event, Mr. Sherman said, "This is the last piece of the facility. That's why it is so exciting.

"I have been involved with the arena in some way for over 20 years. I remember when there were no walls or a roof. This is the last piece to make this a phenomenal first-class facility."

If backers reach their financial goals, and construction gets under way in the fall, Mr. Sherman said, the completed facility could be open as early as July 2003.