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Portion of Skate Island roof collapses

Portion of Skate Island roof collapses

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When Steve Anderson heard Skate Island’s roof collapsed early Monday morning, his initial reaction was that it couldn’t happen.

The old building was so durable that the roof couldn’t collapse, he thought.

But the initial report was correct. About three-quarters of the roof collapsed under the weight of snow. A good portion of the west wall was damaged.

“It hasn’t totally collapsed, but it’s detached from the roof.” Anderson said of the wall.

The movement set off motion detectors at about 4:30 a.m. Monday. No one was inside the building at the time.

On Monday afternoon, the roof sagged to within six to eight inches of the rink surface, and the mirror balls were touching the floor, said Anderson, who owns and operates the business.

Many central Nebraskans have fond memories of skating at the rink, which is at 2310 N. Webb Road.

Skate Island opened in 1966. Anderson’s father, Jerry, purchased the business in 1969. “Our family’s been running Skate Island for 52 years,” Anderson said.

Jerry, who will turn 93 in March, owns the land and the building.

“They don’t make buildings like this anymore. It’s a Quonset hut, a Behlen steel building,” Steve Anderson said. “I was told that unless a tornado landed smack dab on top of it or an airplane crashed into it, that there’d be no way this thing could possibly go down. It’s a fortress, the way it’s made.”

The roof was replaced seven years ago as part of a hail damage claim. The new roof was placed on top of the original roof.

If the original roof had been removed, the rink might have had to shut down for the summer. “I’m sure that money was certainly a factor, and the fact that we didn’t have to close the rink down,” he said.

Anderson has talked to an insurance adjuster in Kansas, who will inspect the rink Tuesday.

It’s too early to make decisions about the building’s future. But it’s possible that “it’s all going to have to come down,” Anderson said.

“If it’s a total loss, I don’t know what lies in the future,” he said.

A lot depends on the maple floor. Anderson has been told the floor is worth $250,000, and maybe more.

It’s known as a rotunda surface, meaning “the wood is curved on the turns,” he said. It is the “Cadillac” of skating surfaces, he said.

The floor is 175 feet long and 75 feet wide.

“That’s our pride and joy. Besides the skate on top of the roof, the floor is our signature piece for the whole place,” Anderson said.

The building is at least 300,000 square feet.

“It’s just incredibly unfortunate. It looks like it’s suffered some very serious and major damage,” said Grand Island Building Department Director Craig Lewis. “I don’t know that they’re going to be able to salvage too much of the building itself.”

It’s hard to explain why the roof failed now, Lewis said.

Since the rink was built, “it’s been through an awful lot of weather events,” Lewis said.

Even since the roof was replaced in 2014, “we’ve had some pretty severe weather,” he said.

When nature is involved, it’s difficult to figure out why things happen when they do, Lewis said.

After the 1980s tornadoes, you’d see three houses destroyed and a home right in the middle “that looked like it’d hardly been touched,” Lewis said. “Mother Nature works in mysterious ways, and we haven’t been able to figure it out yet.”

On Monday morning, Anderson got some things out of the office “so I can make a payroll,” he said.

He was concerned about his employees, “because I’ve got some really valuable people that work for me.”

He has two full-time employees and eight to 10 part-time employees, depending on the time of year.

In normal years, the rink hosts a lot of school fundraisers Mondays through Thursdays. “And church parties were always big, especially this time of year,” he said.

Those had gone away because of COVID-19. The business was closed for three months during the pandemic.

But Skate Island had adjusted, and business was starting to return.

Until the roof caved in.

Someone started a GoFundMe page to help save Skate Island.

“I’m trying to stop that,” Anderson said. He’s not familiar with the details. “And I appreciate the concern by the locals, but I’ve got the best insurance available out there. I have no idea how this is going to play out. But I don’t want people thinking that out of an act of desperation they need to help at this juncture, because we have no idea what we’re going to do. We don’t have any idea what the insurance company’s going to do.”

He talked to a local person who wants local businesses to contribute to the cause. Anderson told the person, “Please don’t do that. We’ve self-supported ourselves forever, and hopefully can continue to do so. And we do have insurance.”

Anderson, 68, said that if he could rebuild, he would.

“I really have no plans of retiring. I’ve thought about it. I also have thought about creatively figuring out a way to turn it over to my employees, because you need people in there that have a love for roller skating.” It’s tough to find good, honest employees like the ones he has, he said.

The skating rink business “is not a growth industry right now,” he said.

Rink owners in Lincoln and Omaha have sold out to real estate developers.

Rebuilding the rink could lead to higher costs for the public. “And that’s not going to work,” he said.

In addition to Skate Island, Anderson calls races at Fonner Park, and handles advertising for the race complex year-round.

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