GLENVILLE — The Schenectady County Recreational Facility ice rink will open this fall after all, if only for limited hockey practices.
The county and Schenectady Youth Hockey reached an agreement late last week that the rink at the Schenectady County Airport could open for limited low-contact practices, following state guidelines intended to deter the spread of COVID-19.
The rink will remain closed to the general public.
Pending county approval of a COVID safety plan submitted by Schenectady Youth Hockey, activity could resume sometime next week — though whether full practices and games will be allowed remains up to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The county’s decision followed an outcry from hockey league leadership and hockey parents about the rink possibly being shut down, and after county officials determined that closing the rink for a few months would not save a significant amount of money, as they originally thought.
“With our ice hockey rink, our floor is sand, so ice melt could screw up the base,” County Manager Rory Fluman said. “Its not meant to be turned off.”
“I’m just very happy with Rory’s decision, said Greg Marcincuk, president of Schenectady Youth Hockey, which also oversees the rink’s management. “He did a great job, so I said thank you for supporting youth hockey and hockey in Schenectady.”
The prospect of the rink not opening generated a lot of concern from families of youth hockey players, and petitions were signed by more than 2,500 people, though many lived outside Schenectady County.
The rink, which was built in 2000, is used by youth and high school hockey programs, for skating lessons, by figure-skaters and for public skating. The rink was closed down entirely when the pandemic struck in March, but was then allowed to reopen in July for a hockey goalie camp. Normally youth league practices and games would be starting, but the pandemic prompted plans to close the rink for the fall to save money.
Schenectady Youth Hockey works with about 1,000 young players every year, offering skills lessons to youths ages 5 to 18. The Glenville rink is Schenectady Youth Hockey’s home rink, and the organization also manages the rink for the county.
It costs about $180,000 per year to operate the ice rink, which is covered by fees paid by users like the hockey leagues.
As part of the state’s phased-in reopening plan, Cuomo announced on Aug. 24 that higher-risk sports, including those with full physical contact including hockey, may begin to practice, but cannot play until a still-to-be-determined later date. Practices for higher-risk sports are limited to individual or group, no- to low-contact training, the governor said.
Fluman said he brought the hockey issue up last week at one of the three-times-a-week control room meetings, at which leaders from all the Capital Region counties confer on reopening issues. Other ice rinks in the region are open, he noted, so hockey parents could simply go elsewhere if Schenectady closed.
“We determined that the rink can be open, but only if it’s skills development,” Fluman said. “Hockey is obviously a high-risk sport, and hockey is indoors, where there is more [COVID] risk.”
Schenectady Youth Hockey’s safety plan includes requiring face masks, limiting rink entry, collecting contact information, and moving players around, Marcincuk said.
“It’s going to be low- or no-contact skills and drills. skating drills, passing practice,” he said. “Really limited contact, and no games or scrimmages.”