"The incentive in having these bleachers was Annandale-Maple Lake playing their home games here and the River Lakes Stars, too," explained Otto Naujokas, who is president of the Paynesville-New London-Spicer Hockey Association and has served as project coordinator for the arena since 1997. "We had to do something for seating."
The River Lakes Stars are a cooperative hockey team from the Albany, Paynesville, New London-Spicer, Rocori, and St. John's Prep schools. Both the boys' and the girls' teams will play three home games at the Koronis Civic Arena this winter.
The boys' team for Annandale-Maple Lake practiced last year at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, but this winter they've moved to Paynesville for practice and games. They practice at the Koronis Civic Arena on average about four times per week. They will have about 10 home games at the arena, including one on Feb. 16 against the River Lakes Stars, in which the Stars will be the visiting team. "We'll have Paynesville kids playing here and they'll be the visitors," said Naujokas with a grin.
Naujokas got the idea for bleachers made of wooden planks from the bleachers at another arena. When he contacted the company for a bid, their quote was $25,000. So instead of buying bleachers, hockey association members built their own.
Theirs are identical except that they used all wood. The ones Naujokas saw had aluminum frames.
The project started last July with $5,000 in materials. Roger Heinen and his son, Mike, who plays for the Stars, spent a day varnishing the wood at Mueller Wood Products, where Heinen works. Naujokas, Heinen, Dave Jacobson, and Randy Jacklitch built the bleachers from July to September.
The bleachers, which are located along one side of the rink, have a capacity of 200. Naujokas said they will meet the state safety guidelines that will come into effect in 2001.
The bleachers are the newest project in a long line of improvements at the arena. In 1997, the hockey association received a $250,000 grant that helped pay for the addition of four locker rooms and a maintenance area. In the summer of 1998, the equipment to make artificial ice was added. This is the second season of artificial ice at the arena.
When the arena was first built, it had gravel around the floor that was replaced by concrete in 1998. The extra heat removed during the ice-making process is piped through the floor to heat the arena. Also, the lighting was improved and plexiglass replaced chicken wire in the boards.
The arena still has a $300,000 debt. The hockey association, Paynesville Township, and the city of Paynesville contribute each year to retire that debt. "I always say, 'We have a million dollar arena, but it didn't cost us that much,'" added Naujokas.
Naujokas hears positive comments from visiting fans about the arena's improvements. "The people that come here that haven't been here in awhile are really amazed," he said. "That makes me feel good."
Additional improvements that Naujokas would like to see at the arena include more seating, enclosing the entryway, and adding insulation to the roof.
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