City set for limited arena operation

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Now through the end of the year, visitors to the online schedule for the J.F. Kennedy Civic Arena — also known as Kennedy Arena — may notice the calendar is scant.

There’s a November scrimmage game still listed at the rink, located at 500 W. Embargo St., as well as a small handful of recreation games still on the schedule for December whose status is unclear, but that’s it. This in contrast to a year ago, when the booking schedule for the facility was virtually packed for the last quarter of the year.

The John F. Kennedy Civic Arena is used primarily for ice hockey and figure skating from October through March., and is home to the Rome Free Academy varsity hockey team, which plays its home games at the 1,200-seat facility. Traditionally, the municipal rink also hosts several public skating sessions each week of operation, to allow local residents to exercise and enjoy some winter recreation.

But this fall and winter, due to coronavirus pandemic related restrictions, there is a different story.

On Nov. 2, the arena will open for youth hockey practice only. Nothing else.

“Hockey is considered a high risk sport,” said Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo, who added that for sports like hockey and football, until a plan is approved by the state for reintroduction of those activities, all the sports can do is train and practice while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Even with a small group practice, there will be no spectators allowed and mask wearing is required. 

On Nov. 3, the arena will be open as it is the election polling place for city residents living in the fourth ward.

In the current year’s budget, the facility was earmarked for $210,000 in operating, staff and program expenses.

At the time of pandemic shutdowns, the arena had already gotten through its winter programming. Spring and summer activities did not happen, said Izzo.

Now, as the city has cut back staffing primarily due to participation in a cost-saving Shared Work program, there is not adequate staffing to sanitize the facility to keep up with a daily schedule demand, Izzo added.

Since March, city officials have reined in public offerings at city parks as the pandemic virus wreaked havoc with standard daily life. Municipal pools were closed and recreational programming curtailed. Slowly, playground equipment was reintroduced as sanitation guidelines were released from the state and implemented locally; however, basketball rims and nets were not put back into parks and the city’s five pools remained empty.

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