By Alec Johnson
Ice dancing. Ice Capades. Ice hockey. But plastic?
As the world is watching the Winter Olympics, there is only one opportunity for children to learn how to skate in the Bronx — on a 20-by-30-foot plastic skating surface that looks more like a giant cutting board than an ice rink — in the courtyard of the former Concourse Plaza Hotel, which is now a senior center, on 161st Street.
Beginning in early February, the plastic ice rink, made from recycled soda bottles sprayed with sugar water to reduce friction, was laid down like a large jigsaw puzzle and surrounded by bails of hay. Every weekday since, children between the ages of 3 and 8, from a dozen local day care centers and schools, have come for hour-long lessons. The director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District, Dr. Cary Goodman, estimates that as many as 1,500 children have skated this month.
But by the end of the week, the skating rink — the only one in the entire borough of the Bronx — will pack up its ice and skates for the season. The rink’s rental, which cost $5,500, will run out and World Ice Events, the company that built it, will take away the winter fun.
“When you don’t have a skating rink for a million and a half people, that sends a bad message,” said Dr. Goodman, whose district pledged $7,500 to finance the project to teach children how to skate.
“I would like to get it extended some way,” Goodman said. “We have demonstrated that there is a need and market for ice skating in the Bronx.”
Goodman is frustrated that the city parks department has not included a rink in the new park that will be built when the old Yankee Stadium is torn down, leaving the Bronx as the only borough without an ice skating rink.
“Everybody has acknowledged that the Bronx hasn’t had one up to this point — it’s an injustice,” he said. “There needs to be a facility in the Bronx.”
Goodman is planning to meet with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe to discuss his concern and is encouraging people in the neighborhood to speak up and say they need an ice rink.
“Look at these 4-year-olds,” Goodman said. “They can get on skates and learn.” He added that they should have the same opportunities as others to dream of becoming Olympic skaters.
On Monday, 11 students from Mid Bronx Head Start had their third lesson. With skates tied tightly, they shuffled across the plastic ice playing red light green light, and racing from end to end landing on hay bails.
“We come here every week,” Marina Ross, one of their teachers, said on the day of their third lesson. “They picked it up really quickly.”