GLENVILLE — Youth hockey teams were able to resume practices and skill camps at the Schenectady County Recreational Facility in the fall and recently received the OK from state and local officials to begin playing games under coronavirus precautions. But public rink access is still on hold for now.
While state coronavirus restrictions prevented the ice rink from operating in the spring, Schenectady County officials mulled plans to shutdown the facility and turn off the ice as a cost saving measure. It costs about $180,000 per year to operate the rink, which is normally offset by revenue from visitors.
Plans to close the rink were ultimately scrapped as the county learned closing the facility would not result in the anticipated level of savings and the state eased restrictions and provided for the resumption of camps and clinics with no-or low-contact for some high-risk youth sports.
The rink ultimately reopened on a limited basis in July for a hockey goalie skills camp with about 15 participants that blended on-and off-ice training, according to county spokeswoman Erin Roberts.
Following an announcement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September allowing high-risk sports to resume practices, the Schenectady Youth Hockey Association began training on the ice under the guidelines from the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The association implemented health safety plans and procedures that were reviewed and approved by Schenectady County Public Health Services before players hit the ice that month.
Schenectady Youth Hockey manages and staffs the facility on behalf of the county, said Roberts. The organization typically works with about 1,000 young players at the county rink each year, offering skill lessons to kids age 5 to 18.
Although the league was able to resume practices in the fall, Schenectady County Youth Hockey President Greg Marcincuk on Friday said only about 200 kids are currently participating.
“We had some people opt out because of COVID-19 concerns,” said Marcincuk.
He estimated the league’s roster has declined by roughly 15 to 20 percent from typical years.
But after roughly five months of just practicing, Marcincuk was pleased when the league was able to resume playing games in recent weeks following another update to state guidelines for youth sports.
“It feels good to play games and we’re doing it very safely,” said Marcincuk.
Schenectady Youth Hockey implemented strict coronavirus protocols in the fall for practices which were augmented with additional safety measures for games. Procedures include health screenings, social distancing measures, mask requirements, attendance limits and the continued closure of the locker rooms, among other measures.
“I’m very happy we can offer competitive activities to our youth sport players while being very safe during a pandemic,” said Marcincuk.
Although Schenectady Youth Hockey has been able to resume some level of normal operations in recent weeks, the organization is currently unable to provide its typical slate of community skating and hockey programs.
Regular programs and activities on the ice would normally see the rink open for about 120 hours each week, said Roberts. Currently, the rink is open for about 50 hours each week for use by Schenectady Youth Hockey and teams from three local high schools.
Attendance in a typical year would see upwards of 20,000 skaters hit the ice and six-figure revenues. In 2018, 21,600 skaters visited the rink generating $343,039 in revenue. Groups currently using the rink are renting time on the ice at rates of $140 to $175 per hour.
Roberts indicated there are no current plans to ramp up use of the ice due in part to staffing levels, saying the county will reassess the situation as conditions change. The current rink staff includes one full-time manager and two part-time employees who work about 10 to 15 hours per week.
“Currently there is no public skating because SYHA does not have the capacity to ensure social distancing either on or off the ice. Teams have coaches and volunteer parents to enforce these rules, and it would be different if we tried to open it up for general open skating. We really wish we could accommodate families and kids to skate,” said Roberts.
But with coronavirus infection rates falling, vaccinations gradually taking place and the state providing guidance for the reopening of congregant spaces like sports venues and amusement parks, Marcinuk said Schenectady Youth Hockey is ready to start talking about safely resuming more public activities before approaching the county for possible approval.
“We’re going to go back to the county now and talk about when is time to start,” said Marcincuk. “To find out when do they feel safe opening back up to more activities.”