Is a Woodbury ice rink a waste or a reward?

The Freedom Foundation of Minnesota sent out a press release today noting that two Minnesota communities — Woodbury and Eagan — were singled out in a report “Summertime Blues, 100 stimulus projects that give taxpayers the blues.” It was put together by Sen. John McCain and Sen. Tom Coburn.

Both communities installed geothermal heating systems in ice rinks.

In Woodbury’s case, the system was built at the sprawling Bielenberg athletic complex.

Says the report:


When it comes to keeping the local ice rink up to date, Woodbury, Minnesota does not plan to just skate by. Woodbury has allocated more than $2.3 million to upgrade its heating systems at a local ice rink, using $503,900 in stimulus funding. Funding was provided by the Department of Energy through the energy efficiency block grant program to help install a geothermal heating and cooling system that would, among other things, “prevent heat from the roof from warming the ice surface,” and “provide heat for the west rink spectators.”

The phrase “among other things” invites the obvious question: What other things?

In Woodbury’s case, the other things was the main thing: Saving taxpayers’ money. According to a January article in the Woodbury Bulletin, the project will save more in energy use alone than the investment.


Bob Klatt, city parks and recreation director, said Woodbury expects $3.9 million in energy savings over 20 years. That should be achieved by eliminating the use of natural gas, reducing electricity use and cutting back operational costs because the new system is automated.

Whether a $3.9 million return on a $2.3 million investment (most of which was bonding money, by the way) is a good deal is worthy of scholarly debate, but it was more than just spending stimulus money for the benefit of a few tushes.

Shouldn’t the critical elements of the discussion be pointed out in any evaluation of the investment?

  • I drove past it a few weeks ago… couldn’t believe the size of it… are they trying to compete with Blaine?

    I’m, thankfully, not a property tax payer in Woodbury, just a simple renter; I’m curious, Bob, since you’re in the same zipcode as I, what do YOU think of the whole deal? I say 3.9MM over 20 years is bubkis; At present, sure, but what are the maintenance costs of this type of installation?

    But, as you said, it’s bonding. And I’m not a property owner. My voice may count, at this point, but means a lot less than the property owners out here.

  • Bob Collins

    Woodbury residents got a chance to vote on the facility years ago. The city has a very strong commitment to youth activities. The down side is those activities have migrated to Bielenberg, at the expense of activities in the city’s many parks, which are still kept up, but which — at least in the case of baseball diamonds — are seldom used.

    I’m not an expert on geothermal. It’s pretty obvious to me, though, that we no longer have the luxury of emissions as we please.

    There’s a lot of whining about property taxes in Woodbury. I’ve never really understood why. I’ve lived there for almost 18 years now and my annual property tax bill has gone from $1,900 to $2,600 a year.

    According to the inflation calculator, $1,900 in 1993 equates to $2785.67 today.

    And the increase is mostly due to a rapid increase — up until recently — in the value of my home.

  • Bob, you’re a good guy for figuring this story out.

    Sorry I can’t send more traffic your way, but then again the truth never catches up with the initial lie. The only thing wrong with the stimulus (other than the part that went to Wall Street) is that it was too small.

    Here’s a map of the current national unemployment situation:

    http://tinyurl.com/yjvndyk

    We need a LOT more investment in this country really fast. Too bad corporate America is sitting on its cash (while wondering why no one’s buying anything).

  • John O.

    What is often overlooked with respect to facilities like Bielenberg is that a lot of folks from the metro area and region visit Woodbury to participate in activities at those facilities.

    In the day, we were frequent visitors to Bielenberg in the winter months so both of our kids’ soccer teams could practice and/or play games there. We paid rental fees at Bielenberg, we bought gas in Woodbury, had meals at restaurants in Woodbury and shopped at other local merchants in Woodbury on the way home as well.

  • bsimon

    While saving $3.9 million for a $2.3 million investment sounds like a no-brainer to me; perhaps the point Senators McCain & Coburn were trying to make is that 500,000 of these were federal tax dollars. For a resident of Woodbury, it sounds like a great deal. For a resident of Arizona or Oklahoma, perhaps not so much.