Construction is well underway on the largest of the Active Elk River recreation enhancements – a nearly 150,000 square foot multipurpose facility with community meeting and banquet rooms, exhibition/event opportunities, senior citizen programming, modern skating and hockey facilities, commercial lease space and a synthetic turf field house.
The person responsible for the daily efforts, from scheduling numerous tradesmen and deliveries, ensuring site safety to troubleshooting all sorts of challenges, working with architects, engineers and inspectors is a long-time Elk River resident, Mike Milless. You’ve likely heard the expression “labor of love” – well Mike has an interesting, and very personal tie to this project we’d like to share with you:
How long have you lived in Elk River (or did you live in Elk River)?
I grew up in Rogers, but since there wasn’t a high school back then I went to Elk River High School. After college in 1982 I moved to Elk River and have been a resident ever since.
What’s your professional background?
Growing up, my dad was in the construction trade as well as two of my brothers. I went to work early 1980’s framing houses and in 1987 went to work for Welsh Construction and stayed there for 32 years working as a commercial contractor superintendent. RJM later caught my attention with a special project right here in my hometown (this multipurpose facility) and I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to be involved in revamping and improving The Barn – a place where I spent countless hours at in my younger years. I looked at working on this multipurpose facility as a way to pay tribute to all the good people that helped build The Barn and the Olympic rink.
Any memories stand out when you think of the time you spent at the Elk River Arena in your youth?
I can remember as a seventh grader in 1971 joining other local volunteers to do block work at The Barn. When it was finished, I thought it was a palace. I played high school hockey at the Elk River Arena, and during those days Tarz Peterson was the Arena Manager and he often opened the big garage door on the north end of the rink, both when we practiced and during games. We were used to feeling as though it was warmer outside than inside, even at -10 degrees, but during games the opposing teams always seemed to focus a bit too much on staying warm rather than playing the game.
That was a “home rink advantage” that stands out, in addition to the old chicken wire fence on top of the boards rather than Plexiglas. Visiting teams would walk in and think we some ragtag, country team but more often than not they left the Elk River Arena with their pride damaged.
What does it mean personally to you being involved in this project given your history with the arena?
It is an honor to help on this project after laying blocks to help build the facility, playing high school hockey here, then coaching youth hockey for years along with playing men’s league after college. One of the best parts about my involvement is working with the great team of professionals from RJM and 292 Design Group. I see familiar faces like Rich Czech, the current Arena Manager, city staff I’ve known throughout the years, but I also find the challenges that come with schedules, weather, etc., exciting.
As someone who is literally watching this project evolve day in and day out, what excites you the most about it, or what do you think residents can really look forward to?
I love seeing the great features these new rinks will incorporate along with the beautiful two-story entryway/lobby and upper floor concession stand. I have no doubt this facility will be right up there with any top hockey establishment in the state that players and parents will love visiting for years to come. But what’s great is there is so much more to this facility – a new senior center, community meeting and event space, commercial retail space, turf field house, and so much more.
Bottom line, I thought I was contributing to the creation of a palace in 1971 as I placed blocks for The Barn, but this facility will truly give the people of Elk River something to be proud of.
Photo from left to right: Mike Milless (RJM Project Superintendent), Robert Milless (93-year-old father of Mike Milless), Dave Bleyhl (Elk River High School hockey coach 1970-1985)