Anchorage Curling Club looking to expand

Beth Bragg
Kilian Roberts throws a rock during the Anchorage Curling Club's end-of-the-season tournament, the Spring Spiel, on Saturday. Aging facilities and an increase in demand for playing time have the club looking for a new, modern home.
Photos by MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
Naimy Schommer puts on her curling shoes before the start of a game. Schommer is wearing shoes formerly worn by Olympic curler Jessica Schultz of Anchorage.
Marc Lester
Humphrey Stephens, right, talks with Ty Schommer during a game at the Anchorage Curling Club's Spring Spiel on Saturday.
Photos by MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
John McCleary, left, and Kilian Roberts sweep for one of Marty Schultz's throws. The Anchorage Curling Club hosted its end-of-season tournament, the Spring Spiel, on Saturday and Sunday.
Marc Lester

In nearly 60 years of existence, the Anchorage Curling Club has survived a number of calamities. Back in 1958, heavy snow collapsed the roof of the first clubhouse, located in West Anchorage. A new clubhouse opened in Government Hill in 1962, and two years later it required substantial restoration after the Good Friday earthquake.

The building has been a Government Hill landmark ever since, but now the club faces a new challenge -- the need and desire to expand.

Spurred by recent growth -- some of it credited to curling becoming an Olympic sport in 1998 and some of it credited to Anchorage player Jessica Schultz's appearance at the 2006 Olympics -- the club has outgrown its clubhouse.

The club owns the building and leases the land, and the lease doesn't allow expansion beyond the current footprint. What's more, the building is in the path of one of the proposed Knik Arm bridge routes.

And so club members are looking across the bridge and beyond downtown for a new and roomier home.

"We're turning people away," said club member Ty Schommer, who is spearheading the expansion efforts. "Every league is full. People want to play, but we don't have room for them."

The club has 165 players on 30 teams and the clubhouse has two sheets of ice. Between league play on weeknights, junior competition on Saturday mornings and bonspiels or learn-to-curl events on Saturday afternoons and Sundays, the ice stays busy during the October-to-April season.

Club member John McCleary said some elementary schools are interested in bringing classrooms to the club to learn how to curl, but with just two sheets of ice, only 16 students can play at once, leaving a dozen or so standing idle.

"I'm guessing we have a lot of closet curlers right now," he said.

Beyond outgrowing the facility, the club is pouring money into it. The roof leaks, the refrigeration pipes are wearing out and other equipment is failing, Schommer said.

"We're constantly fighting the building," he said. "We're spending tens of thousands of dollars every year just maintaining it."

For the first time in its history, Schommer said, the club requested public money to aid its expansion.

He said $200,000 for research and design made it into the Legislature's capital budget. A request for another $1 million will be made later, he said.

A new building will probably cost about $5 million, he said, and will be funded primarily through pledge drives and other fundraisers.

It's time for a bigger and more modern facility in Anchorage, Schommer said.

"Our sport is the only winter sport in Anchorage where you really can't hold a national championship," he said.

Up north in Fairbanks, curlers enjoy what must seem like the Taj Mahal compared to Anchorage's building. Located near the Carlson Center, it has six sheets of ice, a full commercial kitchen, spacious quarters for spectators, lockers for the participants, and more.

"I was totally awestuck," said 14-year-old Naimy Schommer of her first visit to the Fairbanks club.

Leland Rich, a U.S. Curling Association board member from Fairbanks, said the club there has 300 members and is a vital part of the community.

"It started in 1905 when miners came over from Dawson. They curled right on the river downtown," he said. "Back in the 50s, it was the social club in Fairbanks. You literally had to wait for somebody to die to join the club."

USCA's Rich said he thinks a new clubhouse in Anchorage would allow the city to host the kind of events that have brought hundreds of players to Fairbanks for tournaments like the junior and mixed national championships. The senior nationals, for players over 50, might come to Fairbanks in 2013, he said.

Naimy Schommer, the only junior girl who plays regularly in Anchorage, thinks she'd have lots of company if curlers got a new facility.

"My friends' No. 1 excuse (for not playing) is, 'It's so far away! It takes 45 minutes to get there!' " she said.

The club is looking at four potential sites, all of them Parks and Recreation land, according to Schommer:

• Goose Lake. "Parks and Rec would like to have more of a flow of people there in the winter," Schommer said. "Cross-country skiers could maybe use it as a warming facility."

• A lot across from Century 16 on 36th Avenue and C Street.

• A lot at O'Malley Drive and C Street.

• Russian Jack Springs Park, near the golf course.

Reach Beth Bragg at or 257-4335.

Anchorage Daily News