St. Albans Messenger: Welch sees upgrades at ice rink
HIGHGATE — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch laced up a pair of hockey skates, grabbed a stick and joined elementary school students on the ice at the Highgate Arena Wednesday morning.
Welch made a few laps around the rink, skating beside selectboard member and cochair of Missisquoi Amateur Hockey Association’s facility board Joshua LaRocque before posing with students for a photo.
“I think the last time I wore skates was the last time I was here,” Welch said, referring to his visit back in 2008. In February of that year, he dropped off $190,000 in federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant money for the long-planned Highgate Arena upgrade project.
“I can see why it’s so important,” he said. “It’s so fun.”
Welch said something similar when he visited the rink in 2007 and learned how important the arena was to the community. “This is clearly a central gathering place for families in the community throughout our tough Vermont winters,” Welch told the Messenger in 2007.
Almost ten years has gone by and since then, community members and local businesses have transformed the facility, putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into upgrades. LaRocque said the facility is basically run by volunteers, allowing the board to save money every year and investit back into the facility. The $190,000 Welch acquired for the facility went toward a new refrigeration system, he said.
The improvements to the refrigeration system were part of a $1.3 million project replacing the rink, which was reopened last fall.
The selectboard member and town administrator Heidi Britch-Valenta gave Welch, who was sporting a sweatshirt with “I supported the Highgate Arena Renovation Project” written on the back, a tour of all the upgrades. “This is impressive,” he said while looking around.
He also remarked how great it was to see so many girls skating on the ice. Highgate Elementary School Principal Patrick Hartnett said the arena has helped the school really be the center of the community.
In October ever year, students walk over to the arena to skate as part of physical education. He said it’s a nice opportunity for students that are more advanced skaters to help out other kids. “It’s fun,” Hartnett said. “It’s community building, and it’s a great resource for us.”
“It’s just a boon for everybody around here,” he concluded. The rink is open yearround, seven days a week and rumor has it, has the best fries and best ice in the state.