After being closed throughout the spring due to COVID-19, Duluth’s Heritage Center and Mars Lakeview Arena are scheduled to open again on Monday.
While prepared to welcome an anxious group of skaters to the ice for the first time in months, both facilities are calling Monday a “soft opening” as they navigate the guidelines set forth by Minnesota Hockey.
Temperatures will be checked at the door, locker rooms will be closed and there will be limitations on on-ice activities and the number of participants, who are expected to enter and exit the buildings promptly at specific times.
“Our whole purpose is to make sure the kids have a good time and that we’re safe,” said Shari Olson, general manager at the Heritage Center. “We don’t want to chance hearing someone ended up in the hospital with (COVID-19) and it had something to do with something we didn’t do. So we’re going to be strict with the rules and hope they don’t get angry with the people that have to follow the policy and implement the policy.”
Groups are limited to two pods of 10 — nine skaters and a coach — per a half sheet of ice per session and unless a parent is coaching one of those pods, they’ll have to wait outside, as spectators are not permitted.
Don’t worry, though, you won’t be missing much in the parking lot, as games and scrimmages are not permitted in order to limit contact between skaters. Everyone is restricted to just skill development at the moment.
Skaters and coaches will not be allowed to enter the building until 10 minutes before the start of their scheduled ice time — assuming their temperature is below 101.4 degrees Fahrenheit — and they must leave the building within 10 minutes of their ice time ending, if not sooner.
Since locker rooms will be closed, skaters are encouraged to arrive with as much of their equipment on as possible. Both Mars and Heritage will have designated areas where people can change from shoes to skates and vice versa before and after.
“We told our groups, ‘Please be prompt. When your skate starts, we go to lock that door,’” said Steve Ruud, the arena manager at Mars Lakeview. “That’s when we clean the entrance then and there.”
Many of the precautions being put in place by rinks across the state are meant to protect the workers and participants. They are also there to speed up the transition in between groups and ease the sanitizing demands on understaffed arenas.
Mars Lakeview has closed its lobby and is directing everyone straight to the bleachers upon entering the rink. There they will find spaces — marked off every six feet for social distancing — on the top and bottom rows of the bleachers to put skates on.
Afterward, skaters will exit through what is normally an emergency exit. Doors will be propped open so everyone isn’t touching the handles.
Olson said Heritage is taking similar measures in trying to limit the amount of touch points.
“You have 15 minutes to make sure everything gets sanitized: bathrooms, water fountains, chairs, etc.,” Olson said. “We try to limit the touch points. That’s why parents are limited to none because then you have to get up into the bleachers area and sanitizing all of those areas. Right now it’s really tight and we hope everyone understands we’re doing it for all of their sake.”
Despite all the restrictions in place, Olson and Ruud said demand has been high for ice time.
The first scheduled group at Mars Lakeview on Monday is the rink’s biggest client, the Duluth Figure Skating Club. They’ll be out there right away at 8 a.m. A power skating clinic is scheduled for next week as well.
Hockey camps are occupying most of the ice time at Heritage this week.
Both rinks said they do have availability, but aren’t rushing to fill it as they don’t want to overburden their staff. Mars Lakeview, for instance, is only opening from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. to start.
“Everybody is going to learn a lot in that first week,” Ruud said. “If we learn this process is a lot easier, there will be some more openings for that mid-evening timeframe to later at night. If we open and we’re running full-tilt already or full to the max … then I might consider us full and we’ll run with what we have. As the restrictions change, it’ll make things more available.”
Anthony Wood, the director of operations at the St. Luke’s Sports and Event Center in Proctor, said he is keeping a keen eye on how the soft openings go in Duluth this month. His rink, along with all the other Proctor school district athletic facilities, are remaining closed until July 6 as they continue maintenance.
“I’ll be curious to talk to those guys at the end of the month to see how the month went for them being open,” Wood said. “I’ll try and get some tips from them on what worked, what didn’t, going into July.
“If we were the ones to open first, it’d be the same for them.”