Woodstock Board OKs Up to $40,000 for Arena

Woodstock — The lights at Union Arena will stay on. For now.

The Woodstock Union Middle and High School Board voted Tuesday night to release up to $40,000 from Union Arena’s endowment fund, with stipulations, to help meet payroll and pay an outstanding power bill and other debts.

The money the School Board voted to allocate Tuesday night is only about a third of what the arena’s Board of Directors requested earlier this month in an effort to wipe clean the facility’s roughly $125,000 in cumulative debt.

Despite the lower amount, Ginny Eames, president of the Board of Directors, said she appreciated the $25,000 because it would keep the facility operating into the winter.

“I think that the School Board voted the way they needed to protect the endowment fund, but it wasn’t what we had hoped for,” Eames said of the compromise.

Two motions were made Tuesday night and both passed by the 10 board members present. Three members were absent.

Both motions were made with the stipulation that arena officials must raise $75,000 in order to receive the total $40,000 as a gift. If the fundraising goal is met, the money from the endowment would not have to be repaid.

If the arena doesn’t meet the fundraising goal within a year, just the $25,000 would be released, and the money will be deemed a loan and have to be repaid, School Board Chairman Dwight Doton explained.

“I think it was very evident at this meeting that this is what the majority of the board is comfortable with offering,” Doton said.

School Board member Brian Bontrager expressed reservation Tuesday night over passage of the second motion, which would give an additional $15,000 gift if the fundraising goal was met, contending the contingent funds won’t help the arena to become self-sustaining and would only prolong the situation.

“I want them to prove that they will be viable. I don’t think putting $15,000 out there is going to benefit them,” Bontrager said, noting that fundraising is the primary way to keep the facility afloat.

In the end, Bontrager came to support the scheme.

“I think we did the right thing,” he said. “It encourages more fundraising and that’s the way to their success.”

The intitial proposal brought forward by the arena’s board on Aug. 14 requested $125,000 from the roughly $467,000 endowment fund. The endowment fund’s trustees recommended the school board deny the request — which it later did 4-2 with one abstention — because the fund’s intended purpose was to cover maintenance of the arena, not operating expenses and debt repayments.

An exception was made to the rule Tuesday night, however, and the initial $25,000 will be allocated almost immediately to help fund operations.

Leading up to Tuesday night’s vote, School Board member John Snyder said a subcommittee was created as a result of discussions at the Aug. 14 meeting.

“We felt it was an important enough issue to spend some time getting better informed,” Snyder said Tuesday afternoon.

He said Tuesday night’s emergency meeting was scheduled to discuss the compromise as a result of subcommittee discussions, .

The school district owns the arena, therefore the School Board has the final say.

Dan French, the arena’s general manager, said while the arena did not receive the full $125,000, he was thankful the request wasn’t shot down altogether.

“It gives us a little breathing room on the short term,” French said, adding Sept. 1 starts the sponsorship year, which means funds will be rolling in from other sources to further ease the burden. Funding from individuals who will use the ice rink this winter will also be coming in soon, he said.

The facility operates as an ice rink in fall and winter and as a field house in spring and summer, and is a place for community events, such as blood drives and antique and book shows, among many other things.

French explained one of the biggest financial burdens stemmed from a construction loan taken out with Randolph National Bank to help pay for the center nearly 10 years ago.

Although that was paid off in Feb. 2011, French said servicing that debt meant other expenses and payments took the back burner.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.