Referendum a win for rec facilities: Arena, pool, theater and Splash Pad

To sustain its recreational facilities for current and future generations, the City of Albert Lea is implementing $12.25 million in projects for long-term maintenance and energy savings at the City Arena, Aquatic Center and Marion Ross Performing Arts Center. In addition, the city plans to add public restrooms near the Splash Pad at the north end of Broadway Avenue.

With federal funding of $2.45 million available for the energy-savings projects, the net cost to taxpayers will be $9.8 million or less. The Albert Lea Hockey Association, Figure Skating Club and Community Theater have all pledged to help pay for some of the projects.

Albert Lea residents voted 1,849 “yes” to 600 “no” on April  9, 2024, to authorize funding for the projects.

“We thank our community for supporting the proposal, and we are excited to start working on the projects,” said Cathy Malakowsky, director of engagement and enrichment for the City of Albert Lea.

Summer 2024: Design phase for projects

At its April 22 meeting, the Albert Lea City Council approved the first design contract with Apex Facility Solutions for certain City Arena projects. The $362,000 contract covers design and final pricing of removing frost below the Colstrup Rink, replacing the Colstrup Rink floor and installing a new refrigeration system for both the Colstrup and Nystrom Rinks. The design costs were included in the proposal estimates so the total cost remains the same.

The council approved a second design contract at its May 13 meeting for several other rec facility projects. While Apex will manage most of the projects, the city’s Public Works Department will manage building the public restrooms near the Splash Pad downtown.

The design work will occur this summer with the council voting on construction projects this fall. While much of the design work will take place outside the public eye, the improvements are underway and the city will keep gathering community input for the designs. Keep checking this website for updates.

    Rec facilities support quality of life, economy

    These rec facilities all support a high quality of life and contribute to the local economy. For example, nearly 50,000 people visited the City Arena in the last 12 months, most of them for hockey games and tournaments.

    For youth hockey, the arena hosts more than 100 games and 12 weekend tournaments per season, with those visitors likely spending at least $1 million total at local motels, restaurants and businesses, according to the Recreation Department. The department based the spending estimates on a University of Minnesota-Duluth study of the economic impact of amateur hockey in Hermantown and Proctor, Minn. That study found that each out-of-town hockey player is usually accompanied by two family members, with each person spending on average of $45 – $135 a day.

    Below is a summary of projects for each facility.

    City Arena, 701 Lake Chapeau Drive

    $7.54 million net cost in projects ($9.99 million less $2.45 million in federal funding)
    Built in 1967 as the field house for Lea College, the city bought the building when the college closed and converted it to an ice arena in 1976. The second sheet of ice opened in 1999. The Arena totals 99,800 in square footage.

    The arena projects include repairing support beams; replacing the floor of the Colstrup rink; replacing the two separate refrigeration systems for both rinks with one system; replacing the lighting with LEDs; expanding the lobby; and replacing other equipment or fixtures.

    Aquatic Center, 321 James Ave.

    $1.15 million in projects
    The Aquatic Center opened in 1975 and was rebuilt with new features, including a water slide, in 1998.

    The Aquatic Center needs to replace equipment that is starting to fail, including boilers, water heaters and electrical systems. Replacing the lighting with LEDs will reduce energy use. Limited remodeling will double the size of the concession area and move the entry for more locker room choices when entering the facility.

    Marion Ross Performing Arts Center, 147 N. Broadway Ave.

    $360,000 in projects
    The city owns the theater building, which is managed by Albert Lea Community Theater. Projects include replacing the front windows; replacing the front doors to meet ADA requirements; LED lighting; water conservation measures; and HVAC automation.

    Splash Pad, 107 Fountain St.

    $250,000 for restrooms
    Funded mostly by donations, the Splash Pad opened in 2017. Restrooms in this location will serve the downtown area, including popular events such as the Farmers Market, Wind Down Wednesday and Thursdays on Fountain.

    Financing, election and contingency costs

    The city has added $500,000 to the borrowing amount to pay for the special election, financing costs and potential contingencies.


    The floor under the Colstrup rink at the City Arena is heaving and needs replacing. The refrigeration system is failing and also needs replacing.

    The electrical system at the Aquatic Center is greatly corroded and needs replacing, along with water heating systems that have been in use for 20 or more years.

    The doors at the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center are difficult to use for people with disabilities. New doors would meet federal accessibility laws.

    Restrooms proposed for downtown would be located to the west of the Splash Pad.