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Kenan Arena to unveil enlarged, upgraded facilities ; Renovation enables more programming

The Kenan Arena will unveil enlarged and upgraded facilities at a public event next week.

The $106,000 arena makeover includes a renovated annex and installation of a new artificial turf surface in the former ice rink, which is now used primarily for indoor youth soccer.

In the annex, some offices have been removed to make way for a second, smaller soccer field geared for smaller children.

Arena manager Rick Ruhmel said the addition of the field in the annex roughly doubles the facility's rentable times.

"The past few years, I've been turning groups away left and right," Ruhmel said.

The arena at 195 Beattie Ave. is part of the Kenan Center and is governed by the same board. Al Franco, co-chairman of its sports and recreation committee, said he wanted to see more programming in the arena.

"To me, born and raised in Lockport and playing Kenan hockey for a dozen years, I was excited to see anything positive for the children of the community coming out of that arena," Franco said.

"We are just so happy to be able to offer to the community improved facilities," said Susan Przybyl, Kenan executive director.

Funding came from the Grigg-Lewis Foundation, the Lockport Lions and Rotary clubs, the Kenan Arts Council and candy sales by the soccer players.

The official opening is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, with the ribbon-cutting to be followed by soccer practice for 5- to 8-year-olds and scrimmages by the Lockport Soccer Club.

The arena was built in 1969 and was Lockport's hockey, figure skating and broomball headquarters until 1986, when the Kenan board, in a move that still rankles many city residents, took the ice out, blaming high insurance costs.

But there's no question that the youth soccer program is a hit. About 1,000 youngsters and teens participate each year in a nearly year-round program that uses the arena during cold weather and fields on the arena's expansive front lawn during warmer months.

The playing surface in the old rink was first-generation Astroturf, a thin rug over a hard surface that was prone to leave fallen players with "rug burns," Franco said. After 15 years, a replacement was needed.

Ruhmel said the new field uses a more grasslike turf, about two inches thick.

"The old turf had enough usable pieces that we could put it in the annex so the younger kids could use it," said Megan Toohey, former Kenan board president.

The current president, Donna Lanham, credited Toohey with forming an arena visioning task group in December 2008, which made plans for the renovated annex.

Programs that had been on the first floor of the attached annex will be moved to the second floor. Those include a Lockport Community Television film production program, the Kindermusik musical program for preschoolers, rehearsal space for the Lockport Community Band and audition space for Taylor Theatre productions.

Ruhmel said the Buffalo Wings roller hockey organization will continue to use the main arena Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, as the turf will be rolled up.

The youngest soccer players will be on the new half-size field in the annex Wednesday and Thursday afternoons and evenings, freeing that time for more full-field events, Ruhmel said.

Besides soccer, lacrosse and volleyball are played in the arena, and Ruhmel said he's considering starting a summer basketball league.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com