Weekend BRB: Inside the VFW Sports Center's icy new addition
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BISMARCK, N.D. () — Since its initial construction in 1986, Bismarck’s VFW Sports Center has been a staple of the Bis-Man community for both ice-based sports and recreational activities — including curling, hockey, figure skating, and free skating. However, as the area’s population grows, so too does the need for a larger and more state-of-the-art center… which is exactly what has led to a $16 million project to renovate and expand the building.

The VFW Sports Center is part of the greater Tom O’Leary Complex — which includes tennis courts, a golf course, the Sam McQuade Senior Softball Complex, the Municipal Country Club, the Bismarck Rotary Arboretum, and a 2.4-mile multi-use trail. Ever since its construction, it has remained the premier ice rink in the capital city and is home to the Bismarck Bobcats hockey team. With such a legacy, it only stands to reason that maintenance of the building would be a top priority to the Bismarck Parks and Recreation Team. As such, it only stands to reason that after over 30 years in service, renovations in order — including the addition of an entirely new ice rink.

In total, the complete list of upgrades cost a total of $16,600,000 — $6,173,500 of which was brought in by partner contributions and campaign donations from the city’s Raise the Rink fundraiser. A monumental investment, to be sure — but one that has paid off in spades, and has been in the works for quite some time.

“We did a facility study back in 2019,” recalls Bismarck Parks and Rec’s Executive Director Kevin Klipfel, “and it told us that we needed additional ice in our community to meet public demand. School districts came to us, too — they were planning on adding two new hockey teams, and knew that would put a crunch on our current facilities, so asked if there was anything we could do. That’s really what facilitated moving forward with the idea to renovate the center.”

The end result of this 2-year reconstruction project is the new and improved Sports Center — which not only boasts an entirely new, state-of-the-art ice rink and lobby between the old and new areas, but a host of other extra features designed to increase the center’s ease of access and overall convenience. As part of this week’s BRB, we’ve resurrected the spirit of One-Day ND Destinations to give you an inside look at everything that has been added to the building.


There are many aspects to discuss about the newest additions to this building, but the most important, of course, is the added ice rink itself. The New First International Bank & Trust Arena features 310 seats, reinforced walls, and an in-depth electronic scoreboard. In addition to hockey, the rink will be used for skating teams, and open to the public for free skating during certain hours.

“The ice is mostly for hockey and figure skating,” Klipfel explains, “but ice sports take many forms. It could be youth hockey. It could be high school hockey. It could be open skating for families or public schools who use it for physical education classes, or an adult group that skates late into the night. There’s a variety of ice activities that go on here, and all of these growing programs continue to stretch our community’s ice needs.”

While the new rink is of course the highlight of these recent developments, it is worth noting that even the sections outside of it add much-needed features to the sports center. Of particular note are the concession stand and skate rental area located in the expansion’s lobby — which help deal with a common problem that many guests faced as a result of the building’s previous layout.

“The concession stand and lobby are very important,” continues Klipfel. “Before, you walked through a set of double doors, and were in the arena… it really didn’t provide a congregation space for people to hang out, wait for kids, or just stay warm when you’re off the ice between activities and periods.”

In addition to these features, there are several smaller add-ons that will also have a significant impact on the rink’s day-to-day operations and group practices. Outside of the new rink and lobby areas, the expansion also includes renovations to the original H.A Thompson & Sons Arena, as well as the following improvements:

  • Seven additional large locker rooms for the entire facility (15 in total)
  • New multipurpose spaces for training sessions, parties, or meetings
  • More office and storage space
  • Extra parking
  • Rooms for sports medicine and officials
  • Expanded Zamboni room

Notably, unlike most other ice centers, the Zamboni room at the VFW Ice Center is connected to all of the building’s rinks as opposed to each having their own separate storage area — which claims is to ensure that all rinks can be cleaned even if one of their assigned machines breaks down.

This idea of easy access is not only reserved for Zambonis, however: a majority of the establishment’s floor is coated with soft rubber, allowing visitors to travel between rinks and areas without removing their skates.

“You’re literally able to go to all three arenas with your skates on,” notes the Ice Center’s Facilities and Programs Director Mike Wald, “even if you’re getting changed in one of the locker rooms. It’s very convenient for athletes and guests.”


Aside from serving as an extra space for local meets, the Parks and Rec department states that there are plenty of ways that these upgrades can be used to help bring in both money and traffic to the community. In between hosting larger tournaments for sports like hockey and figure skating, the new rink and multipurpose rooms can also be rented out for parties or private engagements — and can even prove useful when the ice needs to be removed.

“We’ll be able to utilize the rinks in the off season with dry-floor events,” Wald states, “whether it’s for roller skating or trade shows. That will help us accommodate more than just ice fans.”

Putting aside the idea of financial gain, it is the sincere hope of those involved with the expansion project that these new developments further original mission of the building: to provide a safe and fun place for residents of the Bismarck-Mandan area to skate, play, and cool off any time of the year.”

“It’s about opportunities for people,” Klipfel concludes. “It’s a chance for people to participate in an activity they like — to come out, rent some skates, and have a fun time in the community.”

To learn more about the new updates to the VFW Sports Center, view skating schedules, or rent out a rink or floor area, visit this page on Bismarck Parks and Rec’s website.

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