wDiving headfirst into her 4-H Diamond Clover Level 6 project approximately three years ago, Elizabeth Blaser pined over community service project ideas that could earn her the equivalent of being named an Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts.

As a member of the Wranglers 4-H Club in Platte County, her mind drifted through several possibilities, some of which were horse based, which made complete sense because the animals are a staple of her organization.

“I met with Jill Goedeken from the Platte County Extension Office – I had a meeting – and we talked about what I was kind of thinking about for my Level 6 project, because that is a huge thing. I mean, any 4-H’er from any county being able to get that Eagle Scout equivalency at a Diamond Clover level is a huge thing because it allows you to give back to your community,” Blaser said.

Still drawing a blank regarding her task following the meeting, Blaser struck gold in winter 2015 when she visited her mother, Amy, at work at Columbus Community Hospital. Looking out her mother’s office window, Blaser saw a group of people ice skating on Lake Esther and her project came to life before her eyes.

Since then, the soon-to-be Columbus High School senior has been planning and fundraising, looking to make the dream of Columbus Ice a reality. The approximately $100,000 project calls for a 1,280-square-foot warming shelter and full-size ice rink – the size of two regulation hockey rinks – located on the west side of CHS. The warming shelter, with an estimated 120-person occupancy, will include a viewing window, electrical heat, benches and restroom.

The depression of the already-dug rink, with its basin visible through a thin layer of grass, provides onlookers with a glimpse of the rink’s shell that will house 18-24 inches of ice from late November through February, weather permitting.

The final wave of fundraising calls for approximately $30,000 needed to fully ramp up construction, and the goal is the acquisition of the necessary funds within 30-60 days, and for the facility to be done before Blaser heads to college in fall 2019.

“For community members, whether it’s $5 or $500, all of it goes into contributing to Columbus Ice, so all donations are greatly appreciated,” she said. “Anything at all really does make a difference.”

Blaser’s fundraising campaign for the public ice-skating rink, which will be available for use free of charge to the public, is themed off of the Olympic Games. Those donating $500 and less are bronze sponsors, $500-$1000 silver sponsors and those giving $1,000-$2,500 gold sponsors. Bronze and silver Sponsors will be listed as sponsors and gold sponsors will have their name listed on a gold plaque.

The top two levels of giving consist of world and Olympic sponsors. World sponsors are donors of $2,500-$5,000 and Olympic sponsors are donors of $5,000-plus. World sponsors receive their own small sign on the warming shelter and Olympic Sponsors receive prominent signage around the shelter, released project material says.

All money may be made out to the Columbus Public Schools Foundation. All project donations are funneled through the tax-deductible, 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, 2508 27th St, PO Box 947. People may also drop off checks and cash personally at the location, or call 402-563-7000, ext. 13085.

"There was a lot of discussion about how we could do this and how the money would all come through,” said Kim Kwapnioski, executive director of the foundation. “It (project) started off smaller than what it is going to be today, so they needed ways for the money to go through and be accounted for so that is where we stepped in.”

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To place the rink on the district-owned plot of land, Blaser received approval through the Columbus Public Schools Board of Education. Unanimous support was shown because of what a project of this magnitude means for any community, Kwapnioski said. The district will also utilize 30 percent of the warming shelter for year-round maintenance storage, project plans show.

“With it being at the high school it made sense for the foundation to be part of it because, in the end, it will benefit not only students of Columbus Public Schools, but also the area and the community as a whole,” she said.

Whether it would benefit the community and actually get used was something Blaser had to figure out right out of the gate. For years, Blaser said, the lagoon located at Pawnee Park served as a public skating grounds but hasn’t been used in that capacity for some time.

She figured there was a real void, and a 2016 online community-wide attitude and interest survey confirmed her thoughts. Six-hundred fifty-two people responded in two weeks, far more engagement that Blaser expected.

“Would you use it? That was really the big one,” she said of questions comprising her survey. “And I had no negative feedback, and there were so many people who responded with, ‘I can’t believe you are doing this,’ and, ‘this is so great, I remember it when it was at Pawnee Park.’ Just so many stories and nostalgia that surrounded the project.”

The project began but has taken some serious time to get off the ground. There are the city codes and compliance and specifications that must be met. Then, of course, there’s the project expense, which exponentially increased from the original plan.

“I make the analogy that we are in our final lap,” Blaser said. “ … It grew from $5,000, to $40,000 to $100,000. Just because of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) restroom requirements, fire requirements, it’s considered an assembly code building, all those things.”

But the end is in sight, through the help of countless individuals and business partners, Blaser said. Some key players include B-D Construction's Bryan Kearney, who’s serving as project general contractor; Jason Reiff of Bierman Contracting and Doug Moore with the City of Columbus, which will maintain, flood and care for the rink during its season and hours of operation.

Those utilizing the rink will need to provide their own ice skates, which are available for purchase at Walmart and Tweet’s Sport Shop in Columbus. Most skates at Tweet’s are priced around $50 and up, according to owner Dave Placek, who voiced his support for the project.

Blaser is thankful for all of the support she’s received and is ready for her Columbus Ice Project to benefit her hometown and surrounding communities. It’s something families can do together, something that bridges the gap between young and old. Really, it’s just another fun activity to get people out of the house and active during the winter.

“For us to start at $5,000 and to end up now at around $100,000 and for it to almost be a reality, it finally feels like we are really close,” she said.

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net

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