Finishing touches on Tupper Lake Civic Center renovations

Tupper Lake Civic Center director Jonn Kopp feels the blade of a skate freshly sharpened on the center’s new machine which was bought through the school district’s capital improvement project. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — As the finishing touches are being put on the Tupper Lake Civic Center’s skating rink, an increasing number of skates are carving up the slick ice surface.

The $440,360 renovations were part of the school district’s $8.3 million capital improvement project, bringing a heated second-floor mezzanine, showers in the locker rooms and ceiling-heated stadium seating.

“Wherever you go, you’re going to have heat,” civic center director Jonn Kopp said.

This year marks the first in around a decade that Tupper Lake’s youth hockey program has had more than 100 members, and Kopp said they are seeing 100 to 150 skaters turn out for free weekend open skates.

“I’ve seen a big increase in the number of people that are coming down and using the facility,” Kopp said.

Brittany Willett teaches 3-year-old Cooper Willett how to balance on skates on his sixth time on the ice since the rink opened for the season Oct. 18 after major renovations over the summer. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Tupper Lake has not had enough players to put a high school hockey team on the ice for the past two years for boys and longer for girls, instead sending its handful of hockey enthusiasts to play for Saranac Lake or Lake Placid.

Kopp believes the sharing will not have to last long as 45 skaters younger than 7 have entered the program this year. In a few years, when the new generation of students have grown in skill and size, they may be able to put together a 10-person team of their own.

The civic center rink was built by parents, skaters and contractors who wanted to give their kids a place to pick up the skill and the adults a place to face off on the ice in the 1980s.

“They built this whole facility out of just volunteerism and fundraising,” Kopp said. “In today’s world, people come down and they expect that something like this should be there for them. Not so much, ‘Well, how can we build something this great?'”

In the first week in January the rink will host the Phil Edwards Hockey Tournament, memorializing the man who did the brickwork, built locker rooms and assembled bleachers. Volunteers erected and operated the rink without pay until 1996, when the school district took it over and turned it into the civic center, adding basketball hoops, bating cages and pickleball courts.

The school district’s acquisition made the rink eligible for grants, which helped put refrigeration in the floors. Before then the rink depended on the outside temperature dropping enough to freeze the water inside.

Monday afternoon as schools down the street let out, children and parents congregated on the ice and in the warm viewing areas as young skaters worked on their stops, spins and balance.

Figure skater Jennifer Russell and hockey skater Kaitlyn McCulloch, both in sixth grade, practiced hockey stops and tried different styles as members of the Tupper Lake Figure Skating Club practiced for a competition on Saturday and 3-year-old Cooper Willett pushed a skate trainer for balance on his sixth time on the ice.

“There is no funner way to get a good cardio workout,” Kopp said about skating and hockey.