An ambulance worker stands ready Sunday afternoon after a large chunk of the roof at Rostraver Ice Garden, Rostraver Township, Pa., collapsed between tournament games involving children from as far away as Canada. Everyone in the building has been safely accounted for, township police said.
By Scott Beveridge
BELLE VERNON, Pa. – It took the Rostraver Gardens to put Rostraver Township on the map after it was built in 1960s in southwestern Pennsylvania farm country.
In no time the local kids took ownership of the landmark - later renamed Rostraver Ice Garden - as most of its activities were designed with them in mind. It was always packed on figure skating nights at a time when few if anyone in the area paid attention to hockey.
Junior and high school students would sneak out back to make out and party, while others tried to impress with their skating skills. It was there that the Rostraver Fair Queen was crowned each summer, and she would make her ceremonial waves to the audience as she circled the arena. And each spring, it would be standing-room-only inside for the Belle Vernon Area High School commencements.
Some of us really thought we were special for having that building and its beautiful and large arched wooden beams supporting the wooden roof.
Eventually, the place went downhill as local interest in ice-skating declined, replaced by better television and the video gaming industry.
A retired banker, Jim Murphy, came along a couple decades ago and made a valiant effort to rejuvenate the place. He built Murph’s Pub with windows overlooking the arena, refocused activities on youth hockey and gave indoor football a chance. But, when I was last in there in 2008, the banquet room was in need of renovating and the place just seemed to have lost much of its appeal.
While running errands this afternoon, I glanced over at the business at Gallitin Road and Route 51 and wondered if that roof was built to withstand the 2 feet of heavy, wet snow we received last week in the disaster known as Stormageddon.
How could I have known then, that two hours later, I would receive a call about a roof collapse at the ice rink? Initial reports had as many as 25 kids being trapped in the banquet hall, news that would later prove inaccurate.
The arena was hosting a President’s Day tournament involving children between the ages of 9 and 12 from Canada, Allegheny County and Erie. One game had ended and another two teams were minutes away from taking the ice when about a third of the massive roof slowly began to fall to the floor.
Concession stand worker Tara Banasick was immediately credited for her heroism for rushing the children and parents out of the building and to safety.
This near-catastrophe surely will leave many teams scrambling to find a place to play out the remainder of their games. It also creates doubt as to whether Murphy will decide to rebuild the place that had become special to so many people.
For example, this comment almost immediately was posted under one of my photos over at Flickr after I posted it there tonight.
“I am so upset about this. I loved that rink. It's a sad end to a great old rink. Had the hardest ice in W.PA. Very bad day.”
Sadly, the collapsed rink is one more nightmare to accompany this storm. And, it seems there is no end on the horizon to the trouble it brought down on the region.