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A couple’s gift to the community: Fight to keep ice arena operating in Wooster

WOOSTER, Ohio - Built in 2001, the Alice Noble Ice Arena was a gift to the community from Alice and Donald Noble whose first date was while ice skating.

The couple's dream was to share their passion through an enduring gift that would help others enjoy something their community did not have.

Built at a cost of about $5 million, the arena has since drawn families from more than an hour away.

Britta Kuenzli says her family drove an hour and a half round trip for five years from the Mansfield area to bring their son to the arena.

"We actually moved here because of the sports and most specifically because of hockey," said Kuenzli.

"The Alice Noble Foundation has just provided a great home for us and I just can't thank them enough for this building and putting this on for us for so long," said Brian Parrott, whose two children have both skated at the arena.

But since it was first built, the arena has operated with mounting financial losses -- the losses absorbed by the Noble Foundation.

"It was never expected that the ice arena would be a profitable operation; in fact, we anticipated that there would be some losses, but on the other hand we did not anticipate that the losses would be as high as they are," said David Noble, the son of Alice and Donald Noble, who believes the losses have been important to keep his parents' dream alive.

"I wanted to keep -- to do -- everything I could to honor their wishes and keep it open for as long as I possibly could, so that's why we have done it," said Noble.

The losses, which average about $150,000 a year, are down from a one-time loss of as much as $400,000 a year.

And with the mounting deficits, the foundation has had discussions about making this season, ending in March of 2020, the last season for the facility, donating the building to the Wooster schools without an ice rink to be used as an indoor arena.

The proposal drew as many as 300 parents and students to a school board meeting Tuesday night, asking the foundation to do everything it can to keep the arena from closing.

"It has created summer camps and after-school programs.  I just can't imagine that this rink would sustain thriving something else that would be equal to what it is already doing," said Kuenzli.

"It's one of the only places in the entire Cleveland area where you can bring adults that don't have a skating background and start playing and it's grown and grown year after year," said Gary Rader, who coaches at the arena.

"I've played here forever and all my friends are here, so it's hard to not want to be here," said Collin Kerr, now 12 years old, who has skated at the arena since he was four.

The community's passion has not gone unnoticed by David Noble.

"There's a lot of passion and people saying that they want to help with the financial shortfalls at the arena, so we are going to take that into consideration, and by we I mean myself and the board of trustees of the Noble Foundation are going to try to put together some proposals for what it would take to keep the ice arena as an ice arena and not convert it to an indoor arena," said Noble.

Parents, coaches and board members of the Wooster Youth Hockey Association say they are also willing to do what they can to help keep Donald and Alice Noble's dream from fading.

"None of that is possible without the support of the Nobles and we are looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and figuring out what that's going to look like," said Peter Schantz, a board member with the Youth Hockey Association.

"Definitely grateful they did keep it going for as long as they have even with the losses they have had because without that we wouldn't have the program we do have today," said Cory Berney, also a hockey coach at the arena.

"I'd say thank you very much because this is the sport I play and it's like taking a basketball court away from basketball players or soccer courts away from soccer players and stuff like that," said Kerr.

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