Renovated ice-skating facility opens

Hamilton Center, long known as an ice arena, is getting a longer name as part of a $3 million renovation that has restored the facility to original architect Harry Weese’s vision.

It will now be known as the Hamilton Community Center & Ice Arena. Columbus Parks and Recreation Director Mark Jones welcomed about 100 visitors to a ribbon-cutting ceremony midday Thursday.

“This will be a community center — this is your facility,” Jones said to the guests. “By the way, there is an ice arena next door.”

It was the official debut for the only public indoor ice-skating facility in Bartholomew County and one of only a few operating in Indiana.

Jim Henderson, retired Cummins CEO and chairman, credited the Hamilton family and its foundation for having the idea for what — in 1958 — was called Lincoln Center, paying for the building and ice rink construction.

He praised the entrepreneurial spirit of the businessmen of that era who joined together to support the project and hire Weese to design it.

“We want Columbus to be different,” Henderson said. “We want to attract the best citizens to live here and attract the best talent to work here.”

When envisioning and designing the original ice arena, the Hamilton family helped Columbus residents realize what the community could accomplish by working together, Henderson said.

Funding for the Hamilton Center’s renovation last year came from two sources:

$1.6 million in public money, from the city’s general fund and from bond proceeds left over from an abandoned attempt to build an outdoor sports complex.

$1.4 million in a private fund-raising campaign led by Henderson and Eric Neal, which exceeded the $1 million goal by $400,000, allowing city parks officials to add a few more items from their wish list to the project.

The private campaign drew 167 donors who contributed to the restoration, including some from out-of-state who have fond memories of their family enjoying the facility when they lived in Columbus, Henderson said.

The project could not have been realized without the private donors, Mayor Kristen Brown said. In addition to thanking them, she also thanked city taxpayers and city councilmen, who unanimously agreed to the spending plan for the renovation.

The transformation

After the ice rink was enclosed with a roof in the mid-’70s, the community aspect of the building took a back seat to the overwhelming popularity of the ice rink. City officials described the building as becoming just an entrance to the ice rink, rather than the community center Weese designed it to be.

There were no significant renovations or improvements to the structure other than enclosing the ice rink for about 40 years, Henderson said.

Decay became apparent. In particular, the facility needed a new roof, refrigeration equipment, upgraded and handicapped-accessible restrooms, electrical upgrades and exterior repairs.

Steven Risting, an architect with atelierRISTING, which designed the new interior look, said the company’s focus was on restoring Weese’s vision as much as possible.

For example, he said:

New lighting was created from Weese’s blueprints.

Spaces for community gatherings were created by using moveable partitions, so that the entrance to the building doesn’t just lead to the ice rink.

Now there are areas for parties or meetings that can be reserved, and areas where visitors can congregate in the updated space.

Some of the rooms were enlarged to meet current needs for the facility and to improve operations, which could lead to more revenue for the facility, Risting said.

The moveable partitions can be adjusted for large or small gatherings.

City funding was used to replace the roof, refrigeration equipment and other maintenance aspects of the building, Henderson said.

Since available public dollars were limited, it was necessary to contact private donors — and tap into their memories of times spent at Hamilton Center — to return the building back to its initial grandeur after more than 50 years.

The private money was used to enhance and restore the building’s amenities — from flooring to lighting and creation of the community spaces.

“We wanted to make the facility attractive for community events, not just sports events,” Henderson said, so it could generate enough income to stand on its own financially.

Another ceremony is being planned for private donors to visit while the center is in use so they can watch their money at work, Jones said.

The idea for the restoration is credited to Neal, who approached the city parks department and Columbus Parks Foundation officials about the need for new boards at the skating rink, citing safety concerns.

After officials determined the building needed far more than the rink boards, the partnership between the city and the private fundraising began to complete the roofing and mechanical work, as well as the interior upgrades.

“We have this wonderful facility that no other community of its size has,” Henderson said, “And we’re looking forward to the next 50 years.”

About the renovation

New name: Hamilton Community Center & Ice Arena, 2501 Lincoln Park Drive, Columbus

Size: 40,000 square feet

Built: 1958, initially called Lincoln Center, designed by renowned architect Harry Weese to replicate a Swiss chalet. In 1995, the center was renamed to honor the B.F. Hamilton family, which donated $650,000 four decades earlier to build the original facility. The family owned the former Hamilton Cosco Inc., later purchased by Dorel Juvenile Group. The skating areas were enclosed in the mid-1970s with a design by architect William T. Koster, who used historical documents to match Weese’s design.

New features: More than $1.6 million in city funding was used to replace the roof, add new refrigeration equipment, expand restrooms, upgrade the electrical system and repair exterior granite. Another $1.4 million in private donations converted the building back into a community center and meeting area, with a community room and patio, installing lighting that matches the original design, refurbishing the ice rink, upgrading the locker facilities and restoring woodwork.

Architect for interior restoration and improvements was Steven Risting, atelierRISTING. David Snapp & Associates did the re-roofing.

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.