High-tech plastic surface means no ice at the Gladstone rink

Alisha Sackett enjoyed skating as a child. But now grown up, she ventured Saturday onto the “ice” at Gladstone’s new public skating rink with trepidation.

“I thought it was really nice and easy. It wasn’t hard to start,” Sackett said. “I think I would have liked it more if I was younger and braver and not afraid of falling.”

Not to worry.

The ice in this outdoor rink isn’t ice at all, but plastic — high density polyethylene — making it the first rink in the Kansas City area with synthetic ice. A slip here doesn’t make for such a hard, cold landing.

“People say it’s softer (than real ice). If you fall down it doesn’t hurt as much,” rink supervisor Brett Bjerrum said Saturday.

The rink had its grand opening Tuesday during the mayor’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Saturday was the first day the rink was open full time. So far, about 200 people have tried it out, Bjerrum said.

The rink is part of Linden Square, a city development at 70th and Cherry streets, near City Hall, the community center and the municipal pool. An amphitheater is scheduled to open in the spring. And offices and restaurants are planned.

The rink “seemed to fit into the plan for the community, to create a central gathering place, a downtown,” said Richard King, Gladstone’s public information officer.

The rink cost about $100,000, a fraction of the price tag for a rink with real ice, King said. Synthetic ice is used commonly in the Northeast and in Canada, but isn’t found too often in the Midwest, he said.

King said the synthetic ice is expected to last about 40 years and can be maintained with a power washer instead of a Zamboni. And there’s no water to replenish or electricity needed to keep it frozen. “It’s a green solution that’s very sustainable.”

The rink’s surface is made up of interlocking plastic blocks like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The plastic is vulnerable to nicks and gouges from skates with poorly maintained blades. Skaters are required to use the regularly sharpened skates provided at the rink. The skates are included in the $5 per person admission fee.

The rink will be open to the public Thursdays through Sundays and available for rent Mondays through Wednesdays. The rink’s season is planned to run from Thanksgiving to Presidents Day.

Not everyone who came to the rink on Saturday was ready to give it two thumbs up.

“I think it’s a great idea, and I’m glad Gladstone did it,” said Susan Conant, who tried out the rink with her husband, Keith, and their teenage son and daughter. All four are experienced skaters, but they made their way haltingly around the rink.

“It’s difficult to skate on,” Conant said. “You can’t get any forward momentum.”

“When you skate, your skates slip sideways,” her daughter, Kay, said.

But Alisha Sackett was already thinking about a second visit, at night when the lights are on.

Her fiance’s daughter, 10-year-old Caitlin Mattingly, who had skated on real ice just once, was even more enthusiastic.

“It’s a lot slipperier,” she said. “It’s fun.”