Is a Woodbury ice rink a waste or a reward?

The Freedom Foundation of Minnesota sent out a press release today noting that two Minnesota communities — Woodbury and Eagan — were singled out in a report “Summertime Blues, 100 stimulus projects that give taxpayers the blues.” It was put together by Sen. John McCain and Sen. Tom Coburn.

Both communities installed geothermal heating systems in ice rinks.

In Woodbury’s case, the system was built at the sprawling Bielenberg athletic complex.

Says the report:

When it comes to keeping the local ice rink up to date, Woodbury, Minnesota does not plan to just skate by. Woodbury has allocated more than $2.3 million to upgrade its heating systems at a local ice rink, using $503,900 in stimulus funding. Funding was provided by the Department of Energy through the energy efficiency block grant program to help install a geothermal heating and cooling system that would, among other things, “prevent heat from the roof from warming the ice surface,” and “provide heat for the west rink spectators.”

The phrase “among other things” invites the obvious question: What other things?

In Woodbury’s case, the other things was the main thing: Saving taxpayers’ money. According to a January article in the Woodbury Bulletin, the project will save more in energy use alone than the investment.

Bob Klatt, city parks and recreation director, said Woodbury expects $3.9 million in energy savings over 20 years. That should be achieved by eliminating the use of natural gas, reducing electricity use and cutting back operational costs because the new system is automated.

Whether a $3.9 million return on a $2.3 million investment (most of which was bonding money, by the way) is a good deal is worthy of scholarly debate, but it was more than just spending stimulus money for the benefit of a few tushes.

Shouldn’t the critical elements of the discussion be pointed out in any evaluation of the investment?