The “Save the Dome” capital campaign to raise funds to replace the failing artificial ice plant, concrete, and piping in the historic Eagle River Sports Arena got a big boost when the Eagle River Rotary Club donated $50,000 to the fundraiser Monday.

It is the largest donation to date for the Eagle River Recreation Association (ERRA) project estimated at $1.5 million. The campaign kicked off the last week of December.

Jerry Burkett of the ERRA board, who is leading the campaign, was ecstatic when he received the check from Rotary President Robin Ginner and club board member Martha Geiseman.

“It was manna from heaven,” said Burkett about hearing the Rotary was giving the ERRA $50,000 for the project. “It’s important because this project is going to happen and now it’s starting to take off.

“This is small-town Eagle River taking care of its own. This is just so wonderful,” said Burkett. “I thank the Rotary from the bottom of my heart.” 

Ginner said it was an easy decision for the Rotary Club members to support the ERRA project. 

“The Dome, it just doesn’t benefit one group. It benefits the entire community,” said Ginner. “People that come in for the hockey tournaments that go on here and the public programing like the figure skating and the different events that go on here. It really benefits the entire community, not just one small group.”

Ginner said Burkett made a presentation on the importance of the project to the Rotary Club members two weeks ago. 

“Luckily, we had a board meeting today (Monday) and we felt it was important enough for our next really big project, so we were able to move on it,” said Ginner. “It got passed by the board and then by our club as a whole today at lunch time and here we are a couple hours later giving them a check.” 

Ginner said the Rotary Club, which has supported other community projects including Silver Lake Beach, the historic railroad depot, and landscaping, and restrooms at Riverview Park, may be able to gain even more funds for the ERRA.

“We are going to be submitting a grant application for a district grant, so our hope is to increase this by another $7,500, but we will find out more about that this spring,” she said.

The Rotary’s largest fundraisers are the annual Wine and Cheese Tasting in July and the Antique Show in August. Rotary members also man the food booths at Northwoods Beer Fest in June, the Muskie Alliance Tournament in August and Cranberry Fest in October.

The Rotary Club also donated $25,000 to the Olson Memorial Library building project in Eagle River and $15,000 to the Demmer Memorial Library project in Three Lakes, as well as giving tens of thousands of dollars to bike trail development in the area.

Burkett said Monday it’s the largest donation so far and he is hoping it will trigger more in the next month or two.

“We have verbal commitments from many entities that haven’t come in yet, but this is the largest by far,” said Burkett.

Meanwhile, Burkett said fundraising for the project continues for the ERRA. 

“There are so many different aspects, so many spokes in the wheel that you have to tighten here and tighten there and everybody is going hard on the committee. Everybody is pulling hard to make this work,” said Burkett. “It’s like the library. Everybody knew we needed a new library, but it took a couple of years for that funding to get going and to get to the point where you had enough funds to start a library. We’re under the gun here, so this is an awesome donation.”

The Dome project

Burkett said the entire cooling system must be replaced by the beginning of the next hockey and figure skating season or the ERRA risks losing skating events in the building known to many as the “Dome” or “Stadium.”

Heading up the fundraising committee are Burkett, Tom Obrodovich, Alan Geiger and Phil Hahn.

“Our ice plant is at the end of its life. It’s over 50 years old,” said Burkett. “We’ve had some minor problems with it and you are dealing with chemicals. We’ve got one year to replace this. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wants it replaced.”

Burkett said the cost estimates to replace the system are anywhere from $1.2 to $1.5 million.

“Because we have to get all the concrete out of there, take all the piping out and then replace the whole plant, the final cost is unknown,” said Burkett.

Obrodovich said when the stadium was first constructed in 1933, it had a dirt floor and was flooded with water. The owners then put concrete in the stadium floor, but it was still natural ice. 

“Eventually they made it an artificial ice system and put the mesh down, with coolant lines, and then poured concrete over that,” said Obrodovich. “So there are two layers of concrete and it all has to come out. Potentially, the boards will need to be replaced at the same time. And if there is a contamination problem, the dirt has to be removed and purified.”

Arena history

With its long history and architectural design, the Eagle River Sports Arena was listed in the National Register and State Register of Historic Places by the Secretary of the Interior on June 24, 1994.

The Sports Arena, a clear-span wooden structure on Highway 70 East, was built by Chuck Taylor, owner of the Jack O’Lantern, in 1933. The “Eagle River Stadium” became a sports arena that would house boxing exhibitions, horse shows, circuses and hockey games. The Eagle River Falcons dominated Wisconsin senior hockey at the arena in the early days, winning the state tournament seven consecutive times from 1932 to 1938.

The outstanding feature of the stadium is the unique 280- by 180-foot elongated dome-shaped roof structure.

The roof is significant for its unique construction technique called a lamella roof. This roof form was invented in Europe in 1908 and introduced in the United States in 1926.

The lamella roof is a curved roof framed by a system of intersecting skewed arches made up of relatively short wooden segments called lamellas.

Burkett said teams enjoy playing in the Dome and understand the historic value of the facility.

“I hear from coach after coach after coach that the one place they want to play is here,” said Burkett. 

Donations for the project can made at Nicolet National Bank under “Save the Dome,” P.O. Box 1599, Eagle River, WI 54521, or online at