A: This question has a four-part answer:
Prudent use of YWCA resources. Ice rinks are expensive to operate, and the expenses are growing faster than the revenues. The amount of subsidy required to support the Ice Chalet is more than we can sustain without putting other YWCA programs at risk. To break even, we would need a large increase in attendance and prices. Our community simply does not have enough people in it to sustain a high volume of use. We also need significant investment in the facilities and equipment.
Facilities. The Ice Chalet facilities and equipment are old and outdated and have outlived their lifespans. Today, we have only one functional compressor and need two to open and operate another season. The second compressor requires significant repair at a cost estimate of $50,000, and at the age of 50+, there are no guarantees how long the compressor could run. In 2020, the type of equipment and refrigerant in the Ice Chalet will no long be available. Replacing the systems with new technology will cost $799,000, and this number does not include any enhancements to the building, nor does it ensure that the rink will operate in the black.
Mission. The YWCA exists to eliminate racism and empower women. That’s a critical mission, and while running an ice rink helps some women and families by providing healthy recreational opportunities, we asked ourselves if running an expensive dedicated-use facility is the best way to advance women and their families. The YWCA of Walla Walla envisions and works toward a community where:
- All women and families have a safe and stable place to live
- All community members can live in dignity, free from violence, racism and discrimination
- All children and youth develop the skills they need to succeed in life
- All adults have the opportunity to be economically self-sufficient
In 2014, the YWCA will provide direct services to more than 15,000 women and children through our domestic violence and sexual assault programs, our childcare centers, and our youth and adult enrichment services.
Adapt to changing times. We think that after 50 years, it is time to redeploy the space and financial resources in greater alignment with our mission and vision and the needs of women and families today. When the Ice Chalet was built in 1965, there were fewer athletic opportunities available for women and girls than there are today. That’s changed.
Q: How did this just become an issue?
A: It didn’t just happen. The Ice Chalet has had challenges like this before. In the 1980s, extraordinary insurance and utility costs almost shuttered the Ice Chalet. Plus, the board and volunteers have been studying this issue more closely the last couple of years to see how investments are aligned to mission. What did just become an issue are the breakdowns in the ice-making systems. Old things, including 50-year old compressors that were used when we bought them in the 1960s, have worn out that and are very expensive to replace. Additionally, the type of refrigerant that the Ice Chalet runs on is scheduled to be phased out in the year 2020.
Q: Is this due to a lack of maintenance?
A: No. Any time you flood a building and freeze it for several months, maintenance is essential. Add old equipment to the mix, and maintenance is a daily reality. The compressors that keep the ice frozen were used, rebuilt when the YWCA bought them back in the 1960s. They have been repaired, rebuilt, and reconfigured many times over the years. Had we not had the smart, capable, creative staff we have at the Ice Chalet, the systems would not have made it this long. The equipment has long outlived its expected life, thanks to the good maintenance and hard work of the Ice Chalet staff.
Q: It can’t really cost $799,000 to re-do the ice rink, can it?
A: Yes, it does. A group that included an engineer, architect, general contractor and sub-contractors looked at the smallest project to a complete renovation. This number represents the cost to do the refrigeration system only, building a system that runs on a more modern refrigerant. A complete renovation to update the building as well as the refrigeration system costs more than $1 million.
Q: Doesn’t the YWCA have millions of dollars in assets? Why can’t you just fix it?
A: Most of our assets are in buildings and endowment. Those can’t be spent. Take those away and the resources on hand can’t do what is required. In addition, an updated building doesn’t guarantee that the operation would break even.
Q: Why not build up the business, get more people in there, and make money?
A: For decades, the Ice Chalet has been financially challenging. When it was built in 1965, before Title IX, there were fewer sports and recreational options in town for boys and girls, and we had more users. Today, there is a lot more competition for the time and resources of youth and families. We looked at other rinks to see what was working for them and came away with one consistent observation: The most successful business model now is based on hockey. The Ice Chalet’s half-sheet size limits what we can do.
In the last two years, the YWCA invested in ongoing marketing efforts and marketing staff. We saw an increase in attendance and in revenue. Unfortunately, the increase was not enough to cover the maintenance that the old plant and equipment requires.
Q: What are you going to do with the space?
A: It is a large space in a great location and has many possibilities. With our mission and vision in mind, the YWCA will explore programming possibilities, the space and costs of adapting it, and we will engage the energy and ideas of our community to help us. As we do this work, the YWCA will maintain and care for the building. It won’t be neglected.
Q: What’s going to happen to the people who work in the Ice Chalet?
A: We realize that the Ice Chalet would have folded a long time ago without the passion, dedication and hard work of the staff, especially Jodi Alden and Nate Alden. We have prepared a strong transition package for them. Additionally, Jodi is working part time in another YWCA department.
Q: Not having the Ice Chalet means there is even less for children and youth to do. How is the YWCA going to help them?
A: The Ice Chalet is one of many programs that the YWCA offers to youth. Since 1978, we have operated the Fun Factory, a free summer outdoor recreation program that brings activities and games to youth ages 4-12 in many parks and neighborhoods throughout the city and county. We also offer Mariposa, a leadership program for Latinas in grade 5 at four schools in Walla Walla. We offer Girls Circle, a program designed to help girls build self-esteem and healthy relationships in the Dayton School district. The YWCA also operates two childcare centers: My Friends’ House cares for children ages 1-5; the Adventure Club serves school-aged children after school and during the summer. Many children live in YWCA shelters during the year, and the YWCA provides ongoing activities for them and their mothers.
In addition to providing direct programming for youth, the YWCA also works with and champions the great work of the WW Parks and Recreation Department, the WW Public Library, the YMCA, Campfire, and other organizations that provide youth activities. We partner with many community organizations that serve youth in order to do our work. As we explore the possible uses for the space, we will be engaging all of our youth-serving partners in the community for their thoughts and ideas.
Q: Where can I call for more information?
A: Please call Anne-Marie Zell Schwerin, Executive Director of the YWCA of Walla Walla, at 509-525-2570. Along with the YWCA Board, Anne-Marie thanks everyone who has been a part of the Ice Chalet, past and present, and looks forward to working with you on new opportunities in the future.