BIG LAKE — The Big Lions Recreation Center is considered by most to be the heart of Big Lake. It’s more than an ice rink, or place for hockey practice or community meeting. It’s a hub for the community.

When the 7.1 earthquake shook the center along with the rest of the town, it experienced approximately $75,000 worth of damage.

Pipes burst and ceiling tiles fell. The whole place got pretty shook up, according to Bill Haller, Big Lake Community Council member.

“We had a mess,” Haller said.

Haller maintains the rec center and can often be found there, whether he’s cleaning the ice or maintaining the grounds.

Several plumbing systems broke apart during the quake. Hot water boilers rose up from the ground, flooding the building. Fifteen lights fell. The main pipe to a large water tank broke outside, leaving a frozen pond in its cold November wake.

Thanks to support from the Mat-Su Health Foundation and various donations from the community, small and large, named and anonymous, everybody pitched in to bring the facility back to life.

It was fully repaired and operational by April, according to Haller. He said that 30 volunteers showed up and got the facility cleaned in a matter of days in the wake of the quake. He said they received several large checks ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.

“They believe in the facility. They believe we do a lot of good work here,” Haller said.

The rec center first opened to the public in 2010 and the Lions Club has been active in the area for 40 years, according to Haller. He said it was built in response to the community’s interest.

He said the Big Lake Lions conducted a survey to see if they would like to see the multifaceted facility to become a reality and the results were overwhelmingly in its favor. It was built to be more than a sports center. It was built to be a community center.

The community donated $500,000 along with the Mat-Su Health Foundation’s additional $500,000 to enter phase one, according to Haller. The Rasmuson Foundation was another major donor.

He said that after everything was said and done, an approximate total of $3.4 million was put into the building from a number of sources around the community. It stands at 36,00 square feet, featuring numerous assets including a fully functional ice rink, locker rooms, and meeting area.

The rec center was hit during its prime season, hockey season, according to Haller. That’s what really hurt them on top of the overall repair costs. Being shut down during that time was a major setback financially but he said they’re going strong into the future, especially knowing that the community has their back.

Contact Mat-Su Valley reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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