The improvement of Cass Park began in 2016 when the City of Ithaca funded a renovation of the roof and ceiling of the ice rink that has been there since 1972. That, however, was just the first of three phases to completely renovate the rink, and the second phase has yet to begin.
The Enclose Cass Park Campaign, spearheaded by Mary Grainger, has been looking to raise funds to reach that second, and eventually third phase ever since the beginning of the project. Highlighting the pending improvements include temperature regulation and a glass enclosure that are noticeably absent from the open-air facility.
After the city funded the first part of the project, they turned to the Friends of the Ithaca Youth Bureau to drum up local support and fundraise the necessary $1.4 million to finish the project. Since then, Grainger and the campaign have accumulated over half the required funds (~$800,000) and will be holding the Enclose Cass Broomball Bash this Saturday.
The event will run from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. with broomball teams of six to 10 players facing off throughout the night. Raffles will be held to benefit the campaign with prizes that include tickets to 11 Cornell women’s hockey home games. Eat the Foood’s truck will be at the event selling gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches with the proceeds going towards the enclosure.
Currently, in the place of a glass enclosure are tarps that hang over the openings. Birds and leaves are able to get in with ease. Of course, the result is not very aesthetically pleasing. But the improvements have more benefits than just the looks of the rink.
Temperature regulation would allow the rink to be open two weeks beyond either end of the current open period of Cass Park, allowing for a longer season and more income opportunities for the facilities. The conditions of the ice would also be safer.
Grainger detailed how, without a dehumidifier in the arena, the ice can be unusable on humid days as the condensation creates a choppy ice surface that requires constant maintenance.
Tom Hartshorne, a former board member of Ithaca Youth Hockey, gave his perspective on the safety of Cass Park in his current form.
“I had 164 kids under my purview [in 2002/2003]. Some mornings here at 7, 7:30, it’s -5 degrees,” Hartshorne said. “With little people, you can’t tell if their feet are frozen or not. It really limited the use of the rink, not having that reasonable temperature.”
Hartshorne added that he once had frostbite after skating in an open-air rink, similar to Cass Park. With the clear-cut benefits of adding the glass enclosure to Cass Park in mind, Grainger detailed what has been preventing the project from reaching completion for the past several years.
The City of Ithaca initially turned to community fundraising to gauge interest due to user numbers indicating that the great majority of Cass Park’s users are not residents of the city. The Friends of Ithaca Youth Bureau have had the reigns since then and have been seeking a grant to help get them over the hump.
“We’re very close. In early November, the city will announce their budget and they hold the cards,” Grainger said. “There’s a proposal for a nice chunk of city funds to be added to the growing total. We’re trying to accumulate $1.4 million. It’s not all private donors to the Friends of Ithaca Youth Bureau.”
Grainger is hoping the state grant will allocate funds to the campaign this year after not being awarded anything in 2018. She recognizes the competitiveness of the region and its projects, though.
“It is a competitive regional economic development cycle that everybody wants,” Grainger said. “I know that Sen. Thomas O’Mara and assembly member Barbara Lifton are both in favor of the project and are involved in the process. We can feel encouraged by that, but there are also a lot of other people with their projects vying for it.”
With a state grant, Grainger believes the second phase can begin in spring 2020. The importance of the project cannot be understated in her mind.
“It’s the warm days that are the problem,” Grainger said. “And there are a lot more of those each year. So, this project will make Cass Park more sustainable and financially successful.”
While warm days are an issue for safety, cold days are an issue for attendance. Without temperature regulation, the frigid days of the winter season are a deterrent for potential skaters, which is, again, financially harmful.
After the second phase’s completion, Grainger aims to renovate the lobby and locker rooms, which look very outdated in 2019.
The completion of funding is inching closer for the Enclose Cass Park Campaign, and now approaching her fifth year at the head of the project, Grainger is as determined as ever to see it to its conclusion.
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