Cloquet area officials began negotiating the Northwoods Credit Union and Pine Valley Ice Arena lease agreement this week, with final outcomes potentially bearing a broad impact for the Cloquet hockey program.
According to Cloquet Superintendent Michael Cary, ice arena negotiations between the city and the school district occur every three years, with the current lease agreement scheduled to end June 30.
Cary informed the Cloquet School Board on Monday, May 10, of an upcoming meeting between the ice arena committee and city officials scheduled for the afternoon of Tuesday, May 11.
According to City Administrator Tim Peterson, Tuesday's meeting was a simple discussion regarding terms of a lease extension, which will later come before both the School Board and the City Council for an official vote.
Some School Board officials voiced concerns over the current terms of the lease, with board chair Ted Lammi wanting to see the district pay less to the city in terms of the lease.
“This might be an opportunity for revenue recovery," he said of the upcoming lease negotiation.
When brainstorming ways to make up for lost revenue, Cary brought forward the idea of potentially adjusting fees charged by the school for varsity and junior varsity hockey participants.
“Running hockey arenas isn’t cheap," he said. “I think part of the conversation needs to be what we charge back to our participants.”
Cary explained that as a hockey parent, he has noticed a significant difference in fees charged for youth hockey players versus upper division. He estimated that youth participation currently costs upward of $1,000 per year, while high school participants pay an annual fee of $250.
According to Cary, ice time for players tends to increase as they get older and start to practice more. Therefore, he said he did not feel it would be unreasonable to escalate the rate for older players over time.
This raised concerns from board member Ken Scarbrough, who said he did not want to lose players simply because they could not afford the cost of the hockey program. He feared a change in participation fees may do more harm than good.
"I totally get the idea of fees, but we just don't want to price our kids out of a sport because they can't afford it anymore," Scarbrough said.
The discussion of fees also brought forward the question of rates charged by the Cloquet district for players from other area schools, such as Esko and Carlton, who participate in the hockey program.
Board clerk Nate Sandman said he would like to see those rates reexamined pending the renewal of the ice arena lease.
"Those are all things that … going forward, we can explore," said Cary, who also mentioned an interest in comparing what the school pays for their gymnasium versus the ice arena.