Whether it’s the Lake Theatre, Oak Park Public Library, Unity Temple or Oak Park and River Forest High School Stadium, Lake Street offers several architectural gems.

The reopening of the Ridgeland Common Recreation Complex last June 14 represented the latest aesthetically pleasing addition along Oak Park’s showcase street.

Located on the west end of Ridgeland Common, the Paul Hruby Ice Arena in particular with its inviting, large windows and constant rink activity has caught the attention of both patrons and passersby.

“I know in planning the Ridgeland Common renovation, the project team flew to Minnesota to look at several ice rink and pool combination facilities,” said Michael Lushniak, the Aquatic and Rink manager at Ridgeland Common. “That’s very popular in Minnesota and we wanted to build something here which visually connects Lake Street to the ice rink. It’s about creating a sense of community so people driving or walking by will be drawn to the facility.

“Architecturally, ice rinks are generally built to look like warehouses. The Paul Hruby Ice Arena offers so much more. I contend that there’s not another rink in the state that has had as much thought put into its architectural quality,” said Lushniak.

The ice rink, expanded to NHL regulation size (85-by-200 feet) during the renovation, is not only picturesque but extremely functional. Whether it is hockey, ice skating or special events, the year-round ice rink is constantly in use.

“It’s a beautiful facility but it’s really busy on the weekends,” said Oak Park resident Mary Ann Maschke, who recently took her daughter, Sophie, to the ice rink. “It’s nice that they have a practice area on the ice for little kids. I think it’s a great place for kids to enjoy and for families to do something fun together.”

In terms of hockey, the arena hosts OPRF and Fenwick High School games, six travel house league teams, two in-house leagues, an adult league, an academy for kids, along with pick-up games (commonly known as rat hockey).

The rink also offers eight public skates a week and a skating school which draws 500 participants per session. Other camps, leagues, lessons, rentals and special events are held throughout the year.

“I think the usage of the facility speaks to how well it’s been received within the community,” Lushniak said. “The ice rink is booked virtually non-stop from 5 a.m. till 11 p.m.”

The metrics reflect the rink’s popularity. According to Lushniak, the skate academy had 1,193 participants during the 2012-13 season, the last full season prior to the renovation. Since the summer reopening, that figure has already been exceeded with over 1,200 skaters and two of four sessions remaining.

Lushniak also mentioned that annual public skate passes typically top out around 500. This year, 1,200 passes have been purchased.

And 478 people also registered for the summer hockey and skating camps, which debuted last summer.

“We hit the ground running the day after the grand opening,” Lushniak said. “We started programming, and also public skates and swims immediately. With any new facility there’s a learning process in terms of figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

“Some people thought it might take a couple of years to get the numbers back up. For the most part, we are either right back to where we were or have exceeded our previous totals before the rink closed for renovation.”

The success of Ridgeland Common stems in large part from plenty of pre and post renovation planning from the Park District of Oak Park, the park board and Nagle Hartray Architecture based off extensive community feedback.

“The renovation of the Ridgeland Common Recreation Complex has been a community-driven proves,” said Diane Stanke, the park district’s director of marketing and customer service. “I feel like this building really reflects what our community wanted.”

The players on the OPRF Hockey Club definitely feel at home.

“The first time I got on the ice [after the renovation] was one of the greatest moments of my life,” OPRF senior forward Dan Johnson said. “It’s a great home rink for us and really inspires us to put on a show for the fans.”

Added teammate George Brennan: “No other team in our league has their own home rink. It’s a definite advantage. We have our own team room, the best ice surface and great support from our parents and fans.

“The old [Ridgeland Common] rink was really run down and had a glum atmosphere. As Ridgeland Common has been reborn so has our hockey program.”

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Marty Farmer

The Illinois Press Association recently honored Marty with the 1st & 2nd Place Awards for Best Sports Feature for his article He's in an Oak Park state of mind: Former OPRF star Iman Shumpert returns...

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