Andy Watzke, Ed Schoonover and Mike Christensen represent about 55 combined years of experience in operating the Brainerd Area Civic Center and its ice arenas.
On Nov. 1, all three will be looking for new jobs.
They knew it would be coming, but their layoffs were made official by the Brainerd City Council on Sept. 22. Their jobs with the city became obsolete after the city entered into an arena management contract with Brainerd Amateur Hockey Association.
Brainerd Area Civic Center employees Andy Watzke (left), Ed Schoonover and Mike Christensen discussed their futures. They learned late last month they would be laid off by the city Nov. 1. In the background, Brainerd Amateur Hockey Association's new arena manager, Jim Archibald, sprayed water Thursday on the rink to finish the ice sheet. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
While the city still owns the land, buildings and equipment, the management contract, in effect Thursday, meant BAHA would be hiring its own people to run the arenas.
None of the men applied for a position with BAHA and were told that no other positions were available within the city. Part of their union contract says they are on a call back list for two years, but none have decided what they will be doing for jobs after Oct. 31.
"Basically we're waiting and seeing what happens," Watzke said.
Before their last day, Watzke, Schoonover and Christensen will be splitting their time between the parks department; the engineering department, where they're helping out with the sidewalk replacement project and with surveying; and at the arena, where they will be helping with BAHA's management transition.
Schoonover said now is the time for all three employees to start moving on with their lives outside of the arena and outside of city employment, whether that will be in the Brainerd area or somewhere else.
"Obviously, we all have family here, we all have families, so this is affecting more than Mike, Ed and Andy," Schoonover said. "All three of us have children, bills to pay and house payments to make. We're not unlike the millions of other people that have been laid off in this country in the last couple years. If a person has to relocate, you have to relocate."
One benefit, Watzke said, is the connections and relationships the three have made with users over the years. And a lot of years it's been, with Watzke working at the arena for 16 to 17 years, Schoonover for 23 or 24 years and Christensen for 17 years.
"That's a lot of nights and weekends," Schoonover said. "That's a lot of late nights and early mornings."
Their layoffs didn't catch them off guard because they knew it would be probable once the city and BAHA began negotiations. What was surprising, Watzke said, was how fast the negotiations moved and how little time, one month, was left for the transition.
Schoonover also said it was his belief that the civic center didn't need to be operated with revenues completely covering expenses, as was mandated by the city council, to be successful. The employees also noted their hours at the arena had been cut back in recent years, which resulted in a decline in service at the arenas. Watzke said the buildings have been, and should remain, an asset to the community.
Still, all three said they were not bitter at BAHA for seeking the management contract.
"I wish them all the luck," Christensen said.
Watzke and Schoonover said working at the arena had become a way of life.
"I've had a lot of BAHA people comment to me since this happened how we are like family to them, and the truth is they are like family to us," Schoonover said.
What Watzke, Schoonover and Christensen will take with them is memories, some bad and some not fit to print but mostly good ones. A standout moment for Schoonover was the 1991 Brainerd High School boys' hockey team, which Christensen was a part of, that lost only two or three games all season leading up to a triple-overtime loss in section finals.
"It's been very rewarding to see many of the players on that team come back to the arena now as parents and their parents come back as grandparents and their children come back through the programs," Schoonover said. "It's been real fun but really sad to walk away before we get to see their children grow up through the high school ranks."
Added Watzke: "I hope people know there's been a good (arena) team in place with us for many years. I think a lot of our users would agree and I think the condition of the buildings would reflect that, also."
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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