Albert Lea voters to decide future of rec facilities

To sustain its recreational facilities for current and future generations, the City of Albert Lea is considering $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 would 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 would 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.

The Albert Lea City Council voted at its Jan. 22 meeting to hold a special election April  9, 2024, to authorize borrowing $9.8 million total, over 20 years, for the betterment of the arena, pool and theater building along with public restrooms downtown.

The cost to individual taxpayers would depend on their property values. For a home valued at $100,000, the additional cost would be $47.50 per year or less than $4 per month.

“The city has taken excellent care of our rec facilities, making repairs and replacements much more cost-effective than building new facilities. The equipment that needs replacing is beyond its life expectancy of 20 years or more. Other projects would save energy – and money – over the long run,” said Cathy Malakowsky, director of engagement and enrichment for the City of Albert Lea. “We also need to fix some accessibility problems.”

Impact of referendum

If voters approve the referendum on April 9, then some projects would start this year with the bulk of the work being done in 2025.

If the referendum fails, then the city council faces:

    • Closing the second sheet of ice at the City Arena, greatly decreasing the practice time for youth hockey, Albert Lea High School hockey and the Albert Lea Figure Skating Club. Waldorf College would need to relocate its hockey program due to lack of ice time.
    • Closing the Aquatic Center.
    • Continued accessibility problems at the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center.
    • Dropping the public restrooms near the Splash Pad from the city’s long-term plan.

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 would reduce energy use. Limited remodeling would 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 would 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 would 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.