Three men were hard at work Wednesday morning in downtown Hays piecing together half-inch-thick plastic polymer pieces to form what would soon become an ice skating rink made of artificial ice.


That outdoor rink is downtown Hays’ newest attraction. It sits beneath the Downtown Pavilion at 10th and Main Street, and the artificial ice allows it to withstand whatever weather conditions a Kansas fall or winter might throw at it.


Sara Bloom and Allie Glidewell, executive director and director of events and operations, respectively, of the Downtown Hays Development Corporation, the nonprofit responsible for bringing the rink to the area, watched the setup.


According to Bloom, the temporary skating rink offers a glimmer of hope in what has been an often dismal year.


"It just really made sense for 2020 because it’s been kind of a disappointing year for so many, because of how much has been canceled," she said. "We thought this would give the community something to look forward to."


On Thursday, the development corporation and members of the community were scheduled to celebrate the grand opening of the ice skating rink. From 5-9 p.m. that day, they planned to offer free hot chocolate and cookies at the rink and "heavily discounted" 30-minute skating sessions, Bloom said.


Then, through Feb. 28, the rink will be open to the public. Operating hours are 4-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4-9 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday.


"It’s kind of a constant request to do more things that are family oriented in downtown," Bloom said. "This will be the perfect fit."


She added that organizers also had the coronavirus pandemic in mind when planning for the rink.


"Whether cases increase or decrease," she said, "we wanted to bring some sort of outdoor attraction that families could enjoy no matter what."


It costs $7 per person for an hour on the ice. Included in that price is a pair of rental skates, which are provided on site.


"We ask people not to bring their own," Bloom said. "Because this is synthetic, it takes a very specific type of skate that we’ll be utilizing."


Artificial Ice Events, the company that set up the rink, also supplied the skates. Bloom said the company provided about 100 pairs of skates, including adult and youth sizes.


Bloom said the rink should be able to accommodate close to 40 skaters at a time.


For those wanting to bring a large group to the rink, or for those hoping to skate often, the downtown development corporation will have discounted punch cards available for pre-purchase at the organization’s office at 1200 Main St.


The organization is also allowing groups to rent out the rink for private parties. Time slots of 10-11 a.m. Saturday and noon to 1 p.m. Sunday will be dedicated to such reservations.


According to Bloom, the ice rink is something the downtown development corporation has been considering for a few years.


But "it’s a pretty large investment," Bloom said, which has kept them from acting in the past.


"It wasn’t really on our radar for 2020," she said, "until a board member sent us the idea again."


Bloom said the investment adds up to about $35,000. Completion of the Downtown Pavilion in 2018 made installation of the rink a little more feasible, she said, because it gave the downtown development corporation a flat, concrete area in which to install the rink. The corporation board also wanted to raise at least half of the $35,000 before taking the leap.


So far, according to the corporation’s website, it has raised more than $21,000. Bloom expects to make up some of the remaining difference through ticket sales and by selling hot chocolate and snacks. A trailer will be set up near the rink for purchase of those tickets and other treats.


But Bloom said not all proceeds from those sales will go toward paying off the rink.


"We are using the ice rink as a fundraiser for other nonprofits," Bloom said. "Rather than DHDC running it all 17 weeks that it will be here, we actually are partnering with other nonprofits who will be running it week by week. And they’re going to receive a dollar for every skater that comes."


If the development corporation’s calculations are correct, Bloom said, a nonprofit could make up to $1,400 a week, depending on how many people show up to skate.


Nonprofits that have already committed to working the rink include the Fort Hays State University Cheer Squad, CASA of the High Plains and a 4-H group.


Bloom said they have about half of the weeks covered.


In addition to helping local nonprofits, Bloom hopes the skating rink complements downtown Hays’ existing businesses, as people travel downtown for the rink and stay in the area to shop, dine and experience what the downtown has to offer.


"With the uncertainty of 2020, it’s been a really hard year for retailers and small businesses and restaurants," Bloom said. "And we have no idea what the holiday season is going to look like either. ... We’re hoping this will be an attraction that not only the community of Hays can take advantage of but that the surrounding area can take advantage of. We’re hoping that it attracts a lot of people."