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Growth of seasonal ice rink leads to calls for extended season
 Don Sergent  / 

If there were ever any doubts that the seasonal SoKY Ice Rink had gained traction after four years of operation, the cold, hard numbers from the season that wrapped up Jan. 5 should put them to rest.

The seven-week season that featured both youth and adult hockey events and a popular skillet curling tournament along with plenty of special events and family skating accomplished something that none of the three previous seasons had: It finished in the black.

Warren County Assistant Public Works Director Nikki Koller tallied up the results of all the wintertime activities at the SoKY Marketplace Pavilion and found that the ice rink’s revenue was more than $2,000 above expenses.

The ice rink rang up income of $180,991.78, including $30,000 in sponsorships, and had expenses of $178,676.69.

“It’s really incredible to know that people still want it and support it,” Koller said. “We tried to do more special events this year, and we have learned what works and what doesn’t.”

Like a novice skater clinging to those stacked milk crates used as crutches for the ice-challenged, the seasonal ice rink has gained some stability.

But the success of the ice rink, evidenced by that ice chip-thin profit margin, only leads to increased calls for either an enclosed ice rink in Bowling Green or, at the least, an extension of the brief season.

“We’ve wondered why they shut it down before it even gets cold,” said Joey Stinson, president of the Warren County Inline Hockey League. “We’re all still lobbying to get the (indoor) ice rink going.

“An extended season would be a good compromise, if they open it up more and at better times for kids to come and play hockey.”

Stinson said the “pond hockey” played at the SoKY Ice Rink is not an adequate substitute for real ice hockey on a regulation indoor rink. He and other local hockey enthusiasts must travel to the Edge Ice Center in Owensboro, the Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville or to the Ford Ice Centers in Bellevue and Antioch near Nashville.

“I have two kids, so we go to Owensboro to play in the summer,” Stinson said. “We travel to Owensboro twice a week. Several people from Bowling Green go to Owensboro and several go to Nashville.

“Basically, that means we have a lot of money leaving town.”

That melting-away of potential revenue hasn’t gone unnoticed by Warren County officials, who have at least taken a preliminary step toward an indoor ice rink by paying $88,520 last year to Nashville-based consulting firm Lose & Associates for a feasibility study for both indoor tennis and ice rink facilities.

The tennis facility has made some progress in the form of a proposed indoor tennis/multipurpose center at Buchanon Park that fiscal court has advanced to the point of hiring an engineering firm to develop plans and a bid package.

But, after getting a cost estimate from Lose & Associates of $25.9 million for a two-rink ice facility, fiscal court has taken no action on an ice rink.

“We would very much like to build the indoor ice rink with two full sheets, and we’re continuing to pursue an operations partnership that will allow us to build it,” Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon said. “We recognize the growing demand for ice sports, but we don’t have the experience to operate it successfully and to grow the ice-entered programs.

“We haven’t given up but are simply trying to put all the necessary pieces together before we can make the investment.”

The cost concerns are valid, as the experience of the Ford Ice Center in Bellevue demonstrates. Opened in October, the Bellevue ice center came in over budget by nearly $1 million, leaving Nashville’s Metropolitan Sports Authority scrambling to make up the difference.

Maybe just as daunting as the construction price tag is the cost to operate an ice rink.

Although it siphons off customers from the Bowling Green area, the Edge Ice Center in Owensboro continues to operate at a deficit in its 11th year, according to city of Owensboro Recreation Superintendent Kerry Bodenheimer.

She said the center, built in 2009 for $6.2 million and one of only four ice centers in Kentucky, brought in $438,343 in revenue during the past fiscal year but had $589,123 in operating costs.

“We just have to offset that (loss) from the general fund,” Bodenheimer said.

Bowling Green Parks and Recreation Department Director Brent Belcher says an ice rink has never been considered by the city.

While considering it, Warren County Parks and Recreation Director Chris Kummer is well aware of the risks involved.

“An indoor ice rink facility is extremely expensive to build and operate,” Kummer said. “And it takes some expertise to run it. You have to make sure you have strategic partners in place and make sure there’s a long-term plan for it.”

That’s the script followed by the Ford Ice Centers that have both a naming-rights sponsor and an operational agreement with the Nashville Predators National Hockey League team.

Warren County officials and local hockey enthusiasts have approached the Predators about helping with a Bowling Green rink, and another leader of the inline hockey league says a partnership could still happen.

“The Predators still have interest,” said Shawn Rubel, a native of Canada and past president of the inline hockey league. “Ultimately, we have to go to them and lay out what we want to do.

“Then we can get a better understanding of what they’re willing to do. Right now, Bowling Green is considered an untested market for them.”

It probably doesn’t help that the Montgomery County, Tenn., government is building a multipurpose sports complex in downtown Clarksville that will be managed by the Powers Management company that runs Bridgestone Arena, home of the Predators.

That facility, estimated to be completed in the fall of 2022, may have for now body-checked Bowling Green out of the running for an ice arena with a Predators connection.

Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett explained that the Clarksville arena will be much more than an ice rink. Estimated to cost from $90 million to $100 million, the facility will include a basketball arena and practice gyms for Austin Peay State University in addition to two sheets of ice.

“I think it will be a huge economic boost,” Durrett said. “It helps that we have a primary tenant in Austin Peay. I think it’ll be something our community can be proud of.”

If the Clarksville arena makes a Bowling Green ice rink less likely for now, hockey lovers like Rubel are still pushing for an extension of the SoKY Ice Rink season.

“I think if we extended the season, we could get a small pond hockey league going,” he said. “We had 40 or 50 kids come out for the ‘Try Hockey Free’ event run by the Predators.”

Leah Spurlin, special projects manager for the Warren County Parks and Recreation Department, believes both pond hockey and skillet curling could grow if the ice rink season is extended; but she said any extension would have to make sense financially.

“I know there’s a lot of interest in it (extending the season),” Spurlin said. “We have discussed that. I don’t know how many additional weeks we would have. We’ll try to come up with ways to afford it.

“We have to be able to justify keeping it open.”

Grace Ramey / Grace Ramey  

A swarm of bees scurry in an observation hive as Tyler and Jeff Dayton of Rainbow Gold Apiaries in Crossville, Tenn., speak to visitors at the South Central Kentucky Beekeeping School hosted by the Allen County Beekeepers Association Inc. at Allen County-Scottsville High School on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. (Grace Ramey/photo@bgdailynews.com)

Bee school causes annual buzz in region
 Will Whaley  / 

SCOTTSVILLE – Beekeepers of all skill levels gathered Saturday at Allen County Scottsville High School for the annual South Central Kentucky Beekeeping School.

The science wing of the high school was all bees and crafts thanks to a partnership between the Allen County Beekeepers Association, the Allen County Scottsville League of Arts and Crafts, The Laura Dugas Foundation of Allen County and the Kentucky State Beekeepers Association.

Kevin Hale, a 10-year veteran beekeeper, was the keynote speaker.

He shared tips and wisdom of beekeeping documenting the struggles that new beekeepers will face and the triumphs that diligence and attention to detail will bring when it comes to beekeeping.

Hale said that beekeepers, especially new ones, will make a lot of mistakes.

“I talked to one man when I first started beekeeping and he said I needed to do something else,” Hale said.

“Sometimes we overcomplicate beekeeping,” he said. “There is too much knowledge to absorb, we think we have to know every aspect of beekeeping and some try to learn advanced techniques before mastering the basics.”

Hale said monitoring the hives is a must.

“Know what is going on in your hives,” he said. “Check every 10 to 14 days and keep records of what you see.”

Hale also talked about Varroa mites, which he said are the biggest problem bees and beekeepers face.

The Varroa mite attaches to a bee like a tick does to other animals.

“We know how to control it,” Hale said, adding that testing the hive is critical and that the highest mite levels occur between June and September.

After Hale spoke, the breakout classes began with subjects ranging from fundamental classes such as beekeeping equipment and first-year beekeeping to extracting honey and aspects of pollination.

The school also featured vendors and other beekeeping resources including NewBee University founder Matthew Doucette.

“I have a background as a schoolteacher and when I left the classroom I still had the desire to teach and when I got into beekeeping it was a perfect fit so now I teach beekeeping and I started NewBee University and it is an online course,” he said. “When people register, I send them resources by mail. We launched that this past year and we have students in Canada, Australia and the United States. When the students complete it, we send them their certificate.”

The university launched last year in the fall, which Doucette said is the perfect time to prepare for the upcoming warmer time of the year.

Doucette was a beekeeper for five years before he launched NewBee University, adding that he developed an interest and then the interest escalated from there.

“I meet people that are starting out and I tell them welcome to the addiction,” Doucette said. “My first year I jumped in with three hives.”

Doucette said the feeling of being overwhelmed is something that NewBee University tackles.

“It gives people the foundation they need to get started without overwhelming them,” he said.

Allen County Beekeeper Association Treasurer Harris Overholt said he was pleased with how the school went.

“It seems to be going great today. I’m hearing good things from Kevin Hale, who is a hands-on beekeeper. There is a lot of positive feedback that has already come out about our breakout classes. Our vendor area has had excellent variety,” he said, adding the attendees ranged in all expertise levels. “We have had people who don’t even have bees come in today to learn and then others who have come just for updated information.”

Grace Ramey / Grace Ramey  

Tyler Dayton of Rainbow Gold Apiaries in Crossville, Tenn., speaks to Sara and Brenda Whitaker of Edmonton as they watch a swarm of bees work inside an observation hive at the South Central Kentucky Beekeeping School hosted by the Allen County Beekeepers Association Inc. at Allen County-Scottsville High School on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. (Grace Ramey/photo@bgdailynews.com)

WKU kicks off Black History Month events
 Aaron Mudd  / 

From a performance by a Grammy-winning vocalist, to a unity rally and march, this year’s calendar of Black History Month events at Western Kentucky University is kicking off with greater magnitude than ever before, organizers said.

“We really want our students to have an opportunity to celebrate their blackness on the Hill,” said Kristina Gamble, who coordinates WKU’s Intercultural Student Engagement Center.

The center is leading this year’s events in partnership with more than 10 campus and community organizations. This year’s events have been pulled together by a special university task force.

Lamario Moore, a graduate assistant with the Intercultural Student Engagement Center, said the task force recruited representatives from black student organizations across campus, WKU’s African American Studies program, the local NAACP chapter, African American alumni and local churches.

Moore said this year’s theme, “My Black Is …, ” embodies the full depth of what it means to be black and that a person’s blackness can be powerful, timeless and beautiful. The theme offers a chance for black expression on campus, while reinforcing that “We’re here to stay,” Moore said.

Black History Month celebrations kicked off on the Hill last week, with an opening celebration Thursday featuring performances from the KAIOS student dance team, WKU’s Major Redz and the National Pan-Hellenic Council.

A Keynote Celebration featuring Grammy-award winning artist Le’Andria Johnson is taking place at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Van Meter Hall. Tickets are free to WKU students and faculty, but community members need to purchase tickets for $10. They can do so between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Intercultural Student Engagement Center in the Downing Student Union, room 2041.

Other events include a Young, Gifted and Black student mixer at 7 p.m. Feb. 21 at DSU Niteclass, an African-American Male Networking Luncheon on Feb. 25 and a Unity Rally and March at 7 p.m. Feb. 26, also at DSU Niteclass.

In planning the events, Gamble said organizers wanted to “create events that would be appealing to the campus community but also … to the greater Bowling Green community.”

The full calendar of events can be found online at wku.edu/isec/blackhistorymonth.

Cost will prevent further widening of Smallhouse Road
 Wes Swietek  / 

The city of Bowling Green has chosen the path of least resistance – literally – when it comes to future projects on the Smallhouse Road corridor.

In 2019, after about three years and about $5 million, a widening of roughly a mile portion of Smallhouse Road between Campbell Lane and Roselawn Way was completed.

The project, which was done in two phases, saw the road broadened from two lanes to three with a center turn lane. The project also included building an 8-foot-wide multiuse path and stormwater drainage improvements. The road has become a major cut-through in recent years, so the city in 2016 embarked on the widening project.

But the last stretch of Smallhouse between Roselawn and Scottsville Road is the most problematic to widen because of the lack of land between private properties and the existing road.

“The proximity to homes and businesses is closer than the other two sections,” city Public Works Director Greg Meredith said.

The city looked at just doing intersection improvements at Scottsville Road and Smallhouse, but because the city would have to outright buy several properties and tear them down to make room for the project, the price tag was estimated to be approaching $3 million.

“It was a lot bigger endeavor, therefore more costly,” Meredith said.

The issue was discussed at a city retreat Tuesday, and the consensus of city commissioners was to move ahead on a plan recommended by Meredith to complete the multiuse path from Roselawn to Scottsville Road.

Meredith said the project will help connect residents “who currently don’t have close access to a park” to Covington Woods Park on the other side of Scottsville Road.

“I wish we could have made it three lanes all the way, but it was cost-prohibitive,” Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson said. “I am glad that residents will now have a safe place to walk.”

A “rough estimate” for the cost to build the muiltuse path is $325,000.

“We will do it as frugally as we can,” Meredith said.

Even without the road widening, finding 8 feet to use for the path “is still going to be tough in some locations,” he said. “We will make it fit as best we can.”

Up next will be several months of working with property owners and designing the project, so it is not likely to be let out to bid until much later in 2020.