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Hot spot: Expansion helps ice rink meet growing demand

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For more than 55 years, Hamilton Center has been Columbus’ go-to spot for winter fun.

It’s the welcoming, homey atmosphere of Hamilton Center that keeps people coming back, area residents say.

Katie Baxter has taught figure skating at the center since she and her husband, Geary, moved to Columbus from Jamestown, N.Y., in the mid-1980s. Her daughters, Nellie and Emma, who are now both in their 20s, also skated at Hamilton Center throughout high school.

“Figure skating is kind of a big sport,” Katie Baxter said. “This facility is getting better and better all the time.”

One of the center’s best assets is the rink’s natural lighting, Katie Baxter said.

“So many rinks are dark, miserable and cold,” she said. “You can see daylight here.”

When Carleen Fry moved to Columbus from Champaign, Ill., in the late 1980s, Hamilton Center’s welcoming façade immediately caught her attention.

Hamilton Center Ice Arena

Address: 2501 Lincoln Park Drive, Columbus

Hours: Public skating hours through April 21 are 1 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 7 to 9 p.m. Friday; 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Admission: $4.50 adults; $4 children ages 5 to 17; free for children 4 and under. Skate and skate skooter rental $2 each. Groups of 20 or more people qualify for a group rate during public session hours.

Information: 376-2686;

Harry Weese architecture

In addition to the original Hamilton Center Ice Arena (1958), the late architect Harry Weese also designed:

1957: Lillian C. Schmitt Elementary School, 2675 California St.

1961: Northside Middle School, 1400 27st St.

1965: First Baptist Church, 3300 Fairlawn Drive

Fry’s three children, who now range in age from 16 to 22, grew up skating and playing hockey at the center in the late 1990s. Over the years, the staff and families who regularly go to Hamilton Center have become like a second family, Fry said. Two years ago, Fry became the center’s program coordinator.

During winter months, an average of more than 500 people attend public skating sessions, Fry said.

Additionally, the center offers a range of year-round family-oriented activities from figure skating and hockey to broomball and adult league hockey, Fry said. The center also hosts Princess Teas, an annual ice show and community and private events, including meetings, baby showers, birthdays and weddings.

“This building has been here for so long and is such a part of the community,” Fry said. “We’re wanting it to be more of a community center.”

The ultimate goal is to continue to grow the center’s programs and community involvement, Fry said. However, the programs aren’t the only aspect of the Hamilton Center Ice Arena that is expanding.

In order to meet growing community demand, the center itself is undergoing extensive renovations.

Originally an outdoor ice rink, the Swiss-style cottage design of the community building housed wooden benches and a circular granite fireplace beside which chilly skaters could warm up. Designed by architect Harry Weese, of Chicago, the center was gifted to Columbus as a community building by the Hamilton Foundation in honor of Cosco manufacturing founder B.F. Hamilton.

The first public skating event was Dec. 22, 1958.

Nearly 20 years later, the outdoor rink was enclosed and expanded to five times its original size under the guidance of architect William D. Koster, who kept to Weese’s original vision.

The remodeled facility included a studio and main rink that offered skaters about 17,000 square feet of ice. The circular fireplace remained a focal point — and a pro shop, snack bar and skate rental area were added.

However, time has taken a toll on the center, which is operated and maintained by the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department. Cost for the current round of renovations, which have been underway since May, is an estimated $2 million — which will be paid through private and public funds, said April Williams, project and resource development director for the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department.

“The current users have outgrown the facility,” Williams said. “There are major upgrades that are essential to the long-term success of Hamilton Center.”

In August, the center’s restrooms were remodeled and upgraded to meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Williams said.

Additional completed projects include electrical work, installation of a dehumidifier in the rink and circulation fans, new windows and doors in the lobby area and new sliding doors leading out to the patio.

But among the center’s most imperative fixes: a new roof. Its repairs began in September and are anticipated to be completed in the spring.

“Overall, this renovation and preservation project will assure Hamilton Center is available for future generations to enjoy,” Williams said.

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