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Coliseum sound, worth cost of repair

The first comprehensive study of the John E. Carlson Coliseum shows the 37-year-old north Fargo facility is structurally sound, making renovation options up to $5.5 million "very feasible."...

The first comprehensive study of the John E. Carlson Coliseum shows the 37-year-old north Fargo facility is structurally sound, making renovation options up to $5.5 million "very feasible."

The three-month, $10,000 study found the building's structure was in excellent condition and suited for expansion, despite heavy use since it opened in 1968.

At the same time, such a project could require the Park District to get creative with funding. The $5.47 million price tag the study estimates an expansion and renovation could cost is more than double what the Park District previously projected.

The study also revealed that a basic renovation option - replacing the arena's ice sheet and boards - could be done for about $965,827.

Butch McConn, president of the Fargo Flyers youth hockey program, doesn't like the "Band-Aid" approach of this option.


"I don't think any (youth hockey groups) feel a simple, minor renovation of the coliseum would be worth the cost-benefit," said McConn, whose organization preps Squirt, Pee-Wee and Bantam players for Fargo South High School.

Dan Huffman, Fargo Public Schools assistant superintendent, agreed.

"We all agree if we're going to spend some money to fix it, we're going to fix it in the context of a full sheet of ice," Huffman said.

The coliseum hasn't been significantly renovated since it opened, according to Park District records.

Although well-maintained, the facility fell short with interest groups involved in the study because of its cramped varsity locker rooms, inadequate restrooms, poor sound system, undersized lobby and ice sheet 15 feet short of regulation size.

The study analyzed three options for the 3,200-seat coliseum that houses the Fargo-Moorhead Jets, North Dakota State University club hockey teams, Fargo North High School, figure skaters and youth hockey groups.

The first option is the board and ice sheet replacement. The new sheet will remain 15 feet short of regulation size under this plan, but could be expanded in the future.

The second option - the nearly $5.5 million renovation and expansion - calls for extending the coliseum 10 feet north and 10 feet south to accommodate a regulation-size rink. Plans also include building a second level and expanding the east side of the building to accommodate more locker rooms, offices and showers.


The additional level would be furnished with bathrooms, tournament and hospitality rooms and luxury boxes. A3-foot-wide concourse on the second level - designed for standing spectators - is also included in the option.

"It would bring everything up to date for the next 20 years," said Park District Executive Director Roger Gress, noting that the coliseum is the only Fargo hockey facility that can host big high school games because of its large seating capacity. "It's a very exciting plan."

The final option calls for building a new facility at the same north Fargo site at an estimated cost of $8.6 million to $9 million.

A $9.2 million option to build a new arena at the proposed site of Fargo's third high school at the intersection of 25th Street South and 70th Avenue was also included in the study.

"You could save $3 or $4 million if you renovated," instead of building a new facility, Gress said.

Huffman agreed.

"If you're going to spend that $9.2 million, it would make more sense to me to improve the coliseum," he said.

The Park District isn't in a position to fund any coliseum options alone like it did two years ago with the $4.7 million Southwest Youth Ice Arena in south Fargo.


The Park District covered $3.2 million of the arena - equipped with two rinks and seating for 500 people - by selling some of its land.

Gress said asking residents to approve a sales tax is unlikely considering how often Fargo rejects such a mechanism to fund event facilities. Just this spring, voters overwhelming shut down a proposal to build a hockey arena and events center downtown.

Gress also ruled out raising property taxes.

The only way the coliseum will press ahead is if organizations join forces to fund renovation plans, Gress said.

"My gut feeling is for this to go forward, there would have to be a consortium effort," he said.

The Fargo Facilities Committee approved a recommendation last week to have youth hockey groups meet with the study's architect.

The Park Board will consider the recommendation at its meeting Dec. 13.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Joe Whetham at (701) 241-5557

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