By Matt Kane
DELANO The Delano Area Sports Arena (DASA) board members are smiling this winter, and for good reason.
Since the arena’s opening day on Super Bowl Sunday in 1990, the DASA board members have been grinding their gears in planning the addition of an enclosed observation deck at the current arena. Those plans became a reality this fall, when remodeling of the vacant area that sits above the arena lobby, restrooms, and concession area at the west side of the building resulted in that observation deck.
The 2,100-square-foot mezzanine, which opened to the rink area, was used as storage through last winter. Now, the space is completely enclosed and climate-controlled. It houses a 1,000-square-foot observation deck that overlooks the rink, a 400-square-foot boardroom, and a 700-square-foot room that will eventually be turned into a weight room and dry-land training area. The mezzanine level is accessible by two staircases, and an elevator lift.
“This was the original idea when they built the arena in 1990,” DASA President Lindsay Wallace said.
Wallace and the rest of the DASA board will show off the new additions to the community Friday, when the Delano High School team opens its home schedule against New Prague.
“Our goal for Friday is to get people who don’t come here to come here,” Wallace said Wednesday morning, while observing the quiet arena from one of the stairwells.
The construction of the mezzanine level coincided with the construction of enclosed storage rooms and a manager’s office on the top deck of the bleachers that sit on the north side of the ice, and new arena lights.
The deck area at the top of the bleachers used to be off limits to fans, but it is now the main runway for fans to get to their seats. In previous years, fans walked in front of the bleachers next to the rink glass or through the tunnel that led to all the locker rooms, giving players little privacy.
The bleachers and a player drop-off area on the north side of the building were additions completed for the 2007-08 hockey season.
A tour of the arena and its renovated areas bring out a sense of pride in Wallace, who has been a board member for the past seven years.
“We’re coming along,” Wallace said. “When you look back and see where it was and how far we’ve come.
“I have bad memories of 10 p.m. practices and only seven home games,” said Wallace, who served as the varsity coach from the 1990-91 season to 1996-97. He was referring to practices at the Buffalo Civic Center prior to DASA being built.
In the early years of the DASA, the walls were left unpainted, and the players’ benches were nothing more than planks of wood. Tom Donahue was the arena manager that first year, and remembers what the facility was like.
“It was never fancy. It was very cold,” Donahue said from his office phone at The Blake Arena, where he has served as manager for 14 years. He still remembers getting the DASA ready for opening day in 1990. “It was brick walls and old wooden boards.
“We spent many nights up there putting the boards in.”
The place was never the Cadillac of area arenas, even when it opened 18 winters ago, but, to Wallace, that makes all the upgrades that much more satisfying.
“It’s always been a barn, but now it is more than that,” he said.
The current state of the arena is a vast improvement over its status just a few years ago. Larry Hunter, who started working at DASA in 2005, and served as arena manager during the 2006-07 season, was a key figure in the building’s rebirth.
“It was pathetic, at best. They were talking about building a new arena and tearing that down. All they needed was someone to come in and clean it up,” Hunter said of the venue when he first started. “We took some pride in it, and slowly started painting walls and fixing hardware, and tearing out the old bleachers.
“Now they put some money in it, and they saw that some people took pride in it.”
Hunter, who used the facility in the summer as head coach of the Rage, Delano’s lacrosse team, and has a son in the Crow River Youth Hockey Association, has seen the recent upgrades at the DASA, and is impressed.
“I’m very impressed,” he said. “The arena itself is really coming along. It think it looks great. It is going to be a great place for people to come.”
The addition of the mezzanine level and the storage rooms this winter punctuate a banner year for the arena and the DASA board. In October, the board wrote its final check on the original bond, which was issued to DASA for over $600,000.
The renovations are being paid for with short-term bonds, and, this spring, the DASA board will seek assistance from the City of Delano to secure new bonds.
The total cost of the mezzanine was close to $150,000, the construction of the storage rooms and bleachers ran close to $50,000, and the new lights cost the DASA $15,000. Costs were kept minimal thanks to members of the Crow River Youth Hockey Association who were directly connected to construction businesses and volunteered their time.
The City of Delano is in no way tied to the arena. The facility is run by the DASA board as an independent nonprofit organization.
The land that the building sits on was originally leased from Delano schools, and a new lease with the school, for 25 years, had to be signed by DASA in October in order for the board to get the current bonds needed to pay for the renovations.
The members of the Delano City Council and Delano School Board were personally invited by Wallace to Friday’s grand opening. He wants the members to see the excitement that fills the building throughout the winter.
“We already have great community support, but the goal is to get more people in this building, even if all they do is come in and see it,” Wallace said. “I get excited when I see a varsity game and it’s packed. It makes me think of how far we have come.”
Currently, the arena serves as the home of 16 different levels of teams, from Termites to varsity. During the day, the schools use the facility for ice skating and broom ball, and, in the summer, lacrosse and floor hockey are played in the building, and ice hockey players use it for offseason conditioning.
DASA board members would like to expand the dry-land turf floor to allow for more use during the spring and summer months, and it has also been discussing the addition of a second refrigerated sheet of ice.
Standard maintenance, such as painting and replacing worn equipment, such as doors and electrical components, are also in the plans.
“It has been a long process,” Wallace said. “It’s exciting to see all the changes.”
DASA’s doors officialy opened Jan. 28, 1990, when the puck was dropped for a Squirts game between Delano and St. Michael-Albertville. According to the Delano Eagle’s report in the Feb. 3 edition of the newspaper, “Donahue said about 75 to 100 people were getting a firsthand look at the arena on Sunday and a majority were ‘very excited.’”
Donahue is Tom Donahue. He remembers the buzz around town about having a new hockey venue.
“It was fun because of it being a new building,” Donahue said last week. “Everyone was excited and thrilled they had an ice rink in that area.”
The article from 1990 explained that, “The finishing touches of installing plexiglass and tightening the last bolts continued until just five minutes before players from Delano and St. Michael-Albertville Squirts teams took the ice.”
Four days after the Squirts played the arena’s inaugural game, the Delano varsity team, under the direction of coach Peter Nunnink, played to a 3-2 loss to Chaska in its first contest in the DASA.
The final varsity game played under the original arena bonds took place Feb. 7, 2008. In that game, Delano, under the direction of current coach Steve Brown, defeated Minneapolis East 6-0.
A new era of hockey at the DASA begins Friday.