FAIRBANKS — The garrison commander at Fort Wainwright is caught between a popular community skating rink and demand for more indoor workout space required for military training.
The ice rink won’t be taken out this hockey season, but it’s the top candidate for new gym space on a base where most indoor spaces are spoken for, and there’s no budget to build a new gym, said garrison commander Col. Ron Johnson, who took questions from local media about the ice rink Wednesday afternoon at his office on post.
“We’re at a crossroads at the management of our facilities and our space requirement,” he said. “Our operational growth has maxed out our facilities, and our potential for future facilities is limited because of our fiscal realities. What we have to do is look at how can we fix ourselves.”
The fort is doing a feasibility study that features a community survey on its new workout space.
The Fort Wainwright Physical Fitness Center and its ice rink were built in 1992. If it lost its ice rink, it would reduce the total number of covered ice rinks in the Fairbanks area to four, if you count the part-time ice at the Carlson Center.
That has the Fairbanks hockey community worried, said Darlene Tragis, treasurer of the Arctic Lions and Alaska Grizzlies competitive youth hockey and wife of Jack Tragis who is president of the Ice Dogs men’s team.
“If we lost that ice, we’d be in trouble,” she said. “There’s just not enough ice. You’ve got a lot of people vying for the same ice.”
Closing the Fort Wainwright rink would directly displace about 150 competitive youth hockey players who would have to find practice time on Fairbanks’ other crowded rinks, she said.
The Army is aware of the popularity of the ice rink with military families and the civilian skating community, although they are trying to quantify that popularity with a survey, Johnson said.
The rink was picked because unlike most other large buildings on base, such as hangars and motor pools, it is not used for a military mission.
As to why soldiers can’t get their required physical training outside, the need for indoor workouts has to do with the base’s mission to train soldiers who can deploy anywhere in the world.
“Historically in Alaska the focus was defense of Alaska during the Cold War,” he said. “Now it’s focused on operational fitness or combat focused fitness,” Johnson said.
The training requires space for a circuit-style workout where soldiers move through stations with pads for grappling, pull-up bars, core exercises and cardio equipment.
Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545.