by Jackson Boline

Let’s Play Hockey Contributor

The IRA (Itasca Recreation Association) Civic Center in Grand Rapids, MN. is one of the most historic arenas in the state of Minnesota. The arena has two sheets of ice, which host the Grand Rapids Boys and Girls Youth Hockey Association, home of the Thunderhawks. The High School team has a rich hockey tradition and a history of success. The Thunderhawks have made a number of trips down to St. Paul, including four state championships. The banners hang proudly from the rafters of the IRA. Construction for the IRA Civic Center began in 1962, aiming for an indoor ice facility. The construction of the arena was finished in 1968, adding an upper lobby area, artificial ice, heating, and seating. In 1966, the Itasca Recreation Association turned the arena ownership over to the City of Grand Rapids, a name that stands today.

In August of 2023, the Grand Rapids City Council approved final bids for the IRA Civic Center improvements project.

“There have been no negative comments on the renovation, the community has been super excited and supportive, it’s a great hockey town,” Said Dale Anderson, assistant coach for the Grand Rapids Boys hockey team, and Director of Parks & Recreation.

The improvements include the demolition of the roof structure, general construction, roofing system, ice rink and plant, fire suppression, mechanical, electrical, updated upper lobby area, new refrigeration, and elevator installation. The budget right now sits at $ 15 million for the remodeling.

“Right now, no unforeseen expenses, so we are on time and on budget,” said Anderson.

As for funding, the project got $ 5 million of state bond money, and the remainder is funded through a half-percent sales tax, that voters passed in a referendum two years ago.

This renovation has been in motion since 2017 when they had their first proposal, which got voted on in 2018 to pass the sales tax. The first proposal included other services attached to the facilities and arena, but the proposal still needs to be voted through.

“Everyone in the community knew how important the Civic Center is to the community, and recognized the economic impact it brings,” Anderson said.

“The community thought that the arena should just fix what needs to be fixed instead of adding a bunch of things.”

The IRA Civic Center is currently on time and on budget with the roof attached and nearly completed as of early July. The upper viewing area has its structure in place, including an elevator construction underway. They have also had minimal roadblocks along the way, with the exception of a late-season snowfall when the roof was detached, creating a short delay waiting for the snow to melt.

With the expected date for completion of construction being right up to the hockey season, they are hoping to have a grand reopening celebration in the spring of 2024. This will include celebratory events like concerts, vendors, etc.

With the construction taking up the entire summer, boys and girls hockey has and will be playing in Greenway with their summer leagues and camps.

The IRA Civic Center is a historic arena in the State of Hockey and has been a great venue to watch a high school hockey game for many years. With the renovations being done, there is even more of a reason to attend a Thunderhawks game this fall and winter than ever before.