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'Froze to the bone' no more

Jay Behnken's an experienced hockey dad -- he's sat bundled in chilly arenas all across the Twin Cities watching his son skate and shoot.

But Behnken, the parent of a ninth-grader in the East Ridge High School boys hockey program that calls the Cottage Grove Ice Arena's newest rink home, said he was taken aback by just how frigid the building's addition can get.

Cottage Grove officials last week heeded similar complaints of cold and approved a plan to add radiant heating above a portion of the year-old rink's bleacher area.

It's a move they hope saves frosty fans some ice cold nights this winter.

"It's a very nice rink -- well lit, nice viewing area," said Behnken, a Woodbury resident and member of the East Ridge Face-Off Club, the school's hockey booster club. "But it is cold. Everybody is commenting on how cold it was. You sit there for 90 minutes and just get froze to the bone."

Behnken's not alone in shivering through hockey games at the new rink -- arena manager Zac Dockter said the lack of bleacher area heating is the No. 1, and generally only, complaint he hears about the $5.4 million arena expansion.

"In the middle of winter we were averaging around 35 degrees in there," Dockter said. When spectators are "not moving or doing anything, it gets pretty cold."

The $10,000 addition of radiant heat to the arena's West Rink bleachers will place heaters above seating areas between the ice sheet's blue lines, covering one-third of the rink's bleachers.

Partial heating of the bleachers was recommended to city hall officials as a cheaper option than outfitting the entire seating area; that would have cost just less than $24,000, according to a memo from Dockter to Cottage Grove City Administrator Ryan Schroeder.

"Other than high school games, 90 percent of the time you'll see the parents and spectators gather at center ice," Dockter said. "Kind of like football where people sit at the 50-yard-line, in hockey people sit between the blue lines (and) higher up so they're above the glass. We're heating more of those seats."

Bleacher heat was initially included in plans for the arena addition, which opened a year ago. But as the project's price tag swelled over budget, city council members cut out some features officials deemed were extras.

"Things were getting pretty expensive" and the city needed to trim the final cost, Schroeder said.

Schroeder noted gas lines and piping necessary to heat the remaining four bleacher sections will be installed, making a future expansion of the system easier and less expensive.

The St. Paul Park-Newport Lions Club donated $1,000 toward the heating system, and city officials have discussed possible fundraising by area hockey organizations that could help lessen some of the city's cost.

Behnken said the Face-Off Club has discussed fundraising for the heating system. But he said it's not "high on the priority list" with myriad other competing costs like buying ice time for scrimmages, purchasing equipment and paying junior varsity coaches as the new program gets on its feet.

"If it's a high school arena," Behnken said, "(heat) should be one of the basics."