HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Winter is a busy time for Huntsville's Iceplex. Hundreds of people of all ages are on the ice every day of the week.
City leaders agreed to fund $9 million to expand the nearly 30-year-old skating complex, with $7 million budgeted for 2019.
Strapping up their kids in pads, and tying up their skates, parents look for some elbow room at the Iceplex, which becomes an impromptu dressing room.
Moms and dads show up early to get their kids ready for their ice time.
"It's actually hard for the different groups to get the ice time that they want, because the demand is so high right now," youth hockey coach Shane Stewart said. "And that's a good problem to have."
By the time the ice gets a clean sweep, it's time for the next group of youngsters. Almost a thousand people of all ages use the two rinks at the Huntsville Iceplex every week.
"I'm down here six or seven nights a week," Stewart said.
"Right now, with two sheets of ice, we only have four locker rooms," Iceplex senior facility manager Steve Clough said. "And then four party rooms we use as locker rooms."
Clough says life is about to get easier for parents and skaters. Huntsville city leaders approved giving the Iceplex $7 million next year. $2 million will pay for an expansion with more locker rooms.
"We'll have bathrooms and showers, those will be self-contained, so they're not sharing a common space anymore," Clough said.
The money will also pay for more bleachers, a new cooling system, and an upstairs bar.
"They can have a beer or glass of wine and food from our concessions," Clough said.
Clough says the work will start after Christmas, the new locker rooms should be finished by June.
"Our daily use is going to be so much easier because everybody will have a place to go," Clough said.
It will mean a place to skate and learn the game without stepping on each other's toes.
The Iceplex will be switching to an ammonia-based cooling system, which Clough says uses far less electricity.
Right now, the complex uses the coolant known as "R-22", which is being phased out and the EPA has deemed illegal to use starting in 2020.