Demolition of 45-year-old Berkley Ice Arena begins

City hopes to make outdoor rink at site this winter

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published August 12, 2019

 A heavy piece of machinery tears down a section of the Berkley Ice Arena’s wall on Wednesday, Aug. 7.

A heavy piece of machinery tears down a section of the Berkley Ice Arena’s wall on Wednesday, Aug. 7.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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BERKLEY — The demolition of the Berkley Ice Arena has begun.

On Wednesday, Aug. 7, the first wall of the ice arena was torn down. The building, which opened in 1974, has been closed since October 2016 after a coolant leak forced the arena to shut down.

“Even though we knew it was coming and that a decision was made, I will say seeing it come down … is going to be emotional for a lot of people,” Parks and Recreation Director Theresa McArleton said. “It’s certainly emotional for me, and I know it’s going to … leave a huge hole and something that was a part of history here in Berkley.”

When it was still operational, the ice arena was home to the Berkley Bears, the hockey team for the local high school. Founded in 1999, the team was coached by Paul Fox, who said that losing the building is “devastating.”

“Even before the high school team, as a kid, and I’m 50 years old this year, I played hockey out of there,” he said. “A lot of friendships started for me at a young age in that rink. It’s a place where I first started playing travel hockey. … The Berkley Ice Arena, for me personally, is a very special place, and to hear that they’re tearing it down this week … it’s pretty emotional.”

Fox made lasting friendships with people he met while playing at the ice arena. One such person is Rick Murray, who now is his assistant coach with the hockey team.

“Those kinds of ties, those kinds of bonds that go back 30-some years, it breaks my heart to watch that rink go down,” he said.

After the ice arena closed in 2016, the hockey team had to scramble to find a temporary place to play. That year they found a home in Hazel Park, and for the past two years, the Bears have played in Oak Park.

“Oak Park is still a part of our community,” Fox said. “Oak Park just seemed like a natural fit for us, and so that actually kind of worked out well. Would we have preferred to kind of keep it where we were? For sure … but it just wasn’t going to happen, which is disappointing. But nonetheless, Oak Park was home.”

Having an ice rink for your hometown team was special, according to Fox, and it was a great asset to have to promote youth hockey.

“That’s kind of what made it a special place, especially when you have your own locker room for the team and a place to call home,” he said. “It becomes a very special place for the guys.”

As for what will happen when the arena is finally torn down, McArleton said that for the foreseeable future, the site will just be grass, but there might be parks and recreation activities that people can look forward to, such as horseshoes and bocce.

“We’ve also talked about the options of doing pop-up farmers markets — all kinds of things,” she said. “Nothing has been solidified, and we’ll sort of see how that works over the next year or two, but because of that area and the conversation around a new community center and the bond that did not pass and the future of the area, for now nothing will be built on that piece of land.”

Though the Berkley Ice Arena will be no more, that doesn’t mean there might not be ice skating where the building once stood in the future. McArleton said there have been discussions to have a special outdoor rink on the land when winter comes.

“We are going to do our best to make that happen,” she said. “It will be pretty weather-dependent, and then also exactly how everything works out with the ground in the first year. We’re going to attempt to do it this coming winter, and if we can make it happen, we’ll make it happen.”

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