Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Pat O'Donnell Civic Center opens its doors

IRONWOOD - A first look at the new Pat O'Donnell Civic Center was too good to pass up during a soft opening on Wednesday.

"We had a very nice, steady stream of people all afternoon and were encouraged by the turnout," said Michelle Rigoni-Sivula, civic center manager.

As a former hockey parent who is accustomed to cold arenas, Jim Pawlak, of Ironwood, said the heaters above the spectator area are a nice touch.

"That is going to help us out tremendously," Pawlak said.

The "newness" of the facility stands out the most, he said. The insulated concession area where parents and players can watch the action on a big screen television is preferable to everyone crowding up along the plexiglass while grabbing a snack, he said.

"It's a nice addition," Pawlak said.

His sister-in-law, Jane Pawlak, of Ironwood, said she used to bring her children to the civic center over 30 years ago. Her daughter was a figure skater and her son played hockey.

"It was rustic then, but now it's just gorgeous," she said.

Gavin Moderson, 12, of Hurley, said he looks forward to playing at the bantam level in the Polar Bear Hockey program this October. He toured the building and did some rollerblading to practice puck handling with a friend.

"I like it a lot compared to the last two," said Moderson, comparing the new facility with the original O'Donnell rink that had a roof collapse from snow in 2019, followed by a temporary dome over the existing rink until construction started on the new facility last spring.

The player rooms seemed a little small but they were also "really neat and fancy," Moderson said. He was also impressed with the new concessions and restaurant style seating area with windows looking out at Mt. Zion Ski Hill.

Jeff Ahola, of Bessemer, said he wasn't a skater, but he enjoyed coming to the original rink to watch high school hockey games when he was growing up and that it was good to see the rink return. He and wife, Laurie, brought their grandchildren Swayze Hoye, 7, and Joseph, 9, to tour the facility and try rollerblading.

"I think it's awesome. It's amazing," Laurie Ahola said of the facility.

With her grandchildren just learning to skate, she said it is good to have a smooth rink floor to skate on rather than on the roads and sidewalks.

"For the kids to have somewhere to go and something to do as a rainy day activity or something like that," she said. "I mean, they've got lots of cool things to do outside with our lakes and our natural resources, but to have something like this for them to come out to is amazing."

The rollerblading idea came from community feedback that kids needed this activity, Rigoni-Sivula said. The rink with the music from the digital jukebox makes it a fun activity.

"Because they don't have anywhere else to do that," Rigoni-Sivula said. "We hope to get that started next week."

The roller skating will be possible up until the rink floor is painted as it will be flooded for ice soon after, she said. A grand opening with a ribbon cutting and flag raising will occur once the rink is frozen, she said.

James Panosso, civic center board member, said there is more potential with this facility as a multi-use venue.

"It's not going to just be a hockey rink during the winter and sit dormant until the circus comes to town," Panosso said. "It's going to be utilized for everything."

Jerry Gullan, civic center board chair, said the facility is well suited to weddings, reunions and trade shows, but also for small organization meetings, he said. There is also potential for tennis and baseball practices in the spring while there is still snow on the ground, he said.

For updates on operating hours and skating times, visit the civic center's Facebook page or email [email protected].