Hundreds bid goodbye to Oak Park’s Ridgeland Common ice rink
Former players from Fenwick and OPRF line up to shake hands at the end of the alumni game Saturday, part of festivities at Ridgeland Common. The arena closes soon for renovations. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 22, 2013 6:46AM
OAK PARK — Though Paul Hruby said he’s sad to lose a season at the ice arena at Ridgeland Common while the building undergoes renovation, the updates are much needed.
“It’s a community rink,” said Hruby, for whom the ice arena is named, at the facility’s send-off event on Saturday, Feb. 16.
What was billed as an “intermission celebration” featured a hockey game between alumni of Fenwick and Oak Park-River Forest high schools, a final public skate and appearances by former Chicago Blackhawks players.
The facility at Ridgeland Common will close March 3, with construction beginning March 18. The $23.5 million renovation project includes the expansion of the ice rink, new locker rooms, a new wading pool with water features and a synthetic turf field.
The pool is expected to re-open in June 2014; the ice arena that fall.
Hruby’s been the hockey director at Ridgeland Common for 49 years, and said the renovation plans ensure the facility will be around for another 50 years.
The changes, though a long time coming, are bittersweet, said Diane Stanke, the park district’s communications manager.
“We’re limping to the finish line here,” she said. The ice rink was constructed in 1962. The roof was erected in 1967 and walls were put up in the ‘80s, Stanke said.
Some components of the old building will remain, she said, including wooden beams and pillars.
As for programming while renovations are underway, Stanke said some of the park district’s youth travel and adult hockey programs will take place at other ice rinks. Details on how, exactly, that will work will be available this summer.
Stanke said almost 500 people were expected to attend the intermission celebration, which offered the public an opportunity to say goodbye to the building. Proceeds from the event benefited the Parks Foundation of Oak Park.
“We wanted to do something memorable,” Stanke said. “There’s a lot of emotions with Ridgeland Common, a lot of fond memories.”
The hockey game drew alumni of all ages, from grads of 1976 to 2006. Fenwick beat OPRF, 7-3.
Games have been played among alumni of the same high school, but “it was kind of unusual to get Fenwick and OPRF to play each other,” said Roy Phifer, a board member for the parks foundation.
“When you hear you have the chance to play your crosstown rivals, a lot of the guys jumped at the opportunity to play on the ice one more time,” Phifer said.
OPRF player Jeff Powell, who graduated in 1984, said it was even more special to have the alumni game be the one of the last matches at the rink before its renovation.
Powell said he still plays hockey, though “not enough,” and appreciated the chance to get back on the ice with some familiar faces.
Families, couples, kids and teens, including Oak Park resident Tad Wefel’s three children, glided across the ice during the last public skate while Blackhawks organist Frank Pellico provided the soundtrack.
“I grew up where we didn’t have an indoor ice rink, so I really appreciate this,” Wefel said of the facility.
But he’s looking forward to a modernized arena.
“New is nice, you know?” Wefel said.