To the consternation of hundreds of local skaters, Jersey City has shut down the Charlie Heger Municipal Ice Rink at Pershing Field due to repeated failures of the ice-making machinery.
In a February 10 posting, the city announced that, “After decades of countless repairs and various attempts to fix the 20- to 30-year-old equipment, it is unfortunate that we are forced to close the Pershing ice rink for the remaining winter months in light of significant safety concerns.”
With repair costs reportedly projected at more than $1 million, the rink’s future operation remains questionable at best.
For the balance of the hockey season, casual skaters have been directed to a private rink concession in Downtown Jersey City and venues in Bayonne and Secaucus, while local teams are compelled to seek out-of-town public and/or private hockey venues, all of which charge fees likely to challenge their limited budgets.
Organized teams fielded by Hockey in New Jersey, which sponsors youth hockey for underserved communities, with help from the New Jersey Devils, and the Jersey City Capitals, which rely on the Pershing rink for practices and home games, have been left scrambling for alternatives.
More than 1,000 Jersey City residents have added their names to a web-based petition calling on the city to restore the rink and hundreds of disappointed fans took to Facebook to register their frustration.
Like so many other multi-generational rink users who vented on the petition, Jenny Jobarteh said: “Besides shutting down hockey programs, the rink closure is taking away one of the very few Jersey City venues where older teens (and kids, adults and seniors) can have some wholesome fun on weekends. With so little programming for teens past 15 years old, it’s a shame the city can’t get its act together with regards to maintenance. The rink is such an asset to the community. I don’t understand how it can be let go like this.”
Jasmine Alvelo lamented, “I spent almost every weekend of my teenage years here. This ice rink is important to the community and really has an impact on the youth of Jersey City. Please, we need to take care of this.”
Nannette Doncel said she “… grew up skating (at Pershing) and my daughter and granddaughter skated there. The kids need somewhere to go.”
Petitioners like Jamie Wilson Murray and Meghan Howard questioned the city’s commitment to adequately fund youth recreation programs. “It’s a shame as it’s not in the budget to maintain equipment properly. (It) doesn’t seem to be a priority.” And Howard opined: “City budgets are moral documents. If we aren’t funding youth recreation…what are we showing about our priorities as a city?”
Equally dejected, Paulette Dworzanski recalled that after the city upgraded the Pershing pool, she was “so excited that the rink would be next (but) not only is the equipment outdated and the roof leaks and the sides are open, (the rink) is no longer possible to upkeep.”
Until the official closure announcement, Capitals president Michael Mariniello said, the organization’s teams have had limited access to the rink. “We’ve been going on a week-to-week basis,” he added, waiting for guidance from the city on whether they could use the facility. The group, which fields teams ranging from ages 5 to 17, has relied on the Bayonne High School rink as a backup when that space is available.
Jersey City Rec representatives have told Mariniello that two of the four compressors—designed to chill a concrete slab to help create ice—remain “offline” and apparently resistant to repair efforts. That issue, coupled with a Freon leak from the chilling system, has reportedly hindered the rink’s safe operation, he said.
At the same time, he said, rink maintenance staff and a private vendor brought in by the city have also had to contend with a rise in outdoor humidity associated with mild winter conditions and the warmer air slipping through fabric-covered openings on the sides of the rink.
And there’s the condensation dripping from the roof onto steel beams and, from there, to the ice below, forming uneven sections which have to be smoothed out, Mariniello said, although, to be fair, this is an issue common to many rinks, he added.
In any case, the official closure posting insists that, “Jersey City is committed to replacing the failed equipment where repairs are not feasible and will simultaneously address much-needed renovations to the roof and locker rooms (where visitors must go to use lavatories).”
The notice goes on to say that, “We understand how much the rink means to the community, which is why we are committed to making the necessary updates to bring it back to full operations for the 2023-2024 winter season.”
Councilmember-at-large Yousef Saleh, who lives near Pershing, said that based on what he’s been told by city rec staff, the cooling system “has suffered a catastrophic failure and, in years prior, they did quick fixes but it’s gotten to the point where we can’t just put band-aids on it anymore.”
If the projected rehabilitation costs turn out to be as high as expected, though, Saleh conceded that, given the council’s recent efforts to rein in municipal spending, the proposed rink fix “is going to be a difficult conversation…. Residents have zero appetite to raise taxes.”