Winter weather has halted construction on the state's Olympic speed-skating oval at the Oquirrh Park Fitness Center in Kearns until spring, delaying its opening at least several months.

The $4.1 million facility is expected to be finished in time for the naming of the host city for the 2002 Winter Games in mid-June. Because the oval is uncovered, there won't be any ice until next winter.Work was supposed to be completed at the beginning of the year, so skaters could hit the ice this season. But a flurry of snow storms has left the site too cold for concrete to be poured.

The delay won't stall the progress of the 600 area children training under speed-skating coach Stan Klotkowski, through special programs at Beehive Elementary School in Kearns and Wasatch Elementary School in Salt Lake City.

The children have been coached in running, jumping and other drills since the school year began in preparation for their first attempts at the sport of speed skating.

They'll still get a chance to skate this season. The fitness center and the state will spend up to $8,000 each to rent ice time at downtown's Triad Center and Gallivan Plaza, as well as the Ogden Ice Sheet.

It's money the fitness center and the state would have spent operating the Kearns oval had it opened early next year as scheduled, and it's enough to keep the children skating through February.

Klotkowski said the beginners won't miss the oval this year. Utah's more advanced skaters will just continue the training they started in November on the speed-skating oval in Butte, Mont.

The first year of speed-skating training focuses more on readying youngsters for the rigors of competitive sports, Klotkowski said. "This preparation is not only physical but mental," he said. "We need to prepare kids slow."

So instead of skating on what will be the only oval rink in the state, the children are instead starting on smaller patches of ice. Much of what they're learning is simply balance, Klotkowski said.

The decision to delay the project came earlier this month, when state officials met with the contractor and determined it was better to wait until the ground thaws before attempting the huge job of pouring the 400-meter track.

Utah Sports Authority Chairman Randy Dryer told a legislative committee recently that the standard state construction contract would have required the state to pick up the additional costs created by the cold weather.

That could have included erecting a tent over the site and heating the ground. Even so, the cold weather still could have affected the quality of the track, Dryer said.

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"There's no need to do it right now," Dryer said.

Waiting won't affect the budget, according to Randy Montgomery, Sports Authority executive director. Anticipated revenue from skaters won't materialize, but neither will bills for running the refrigeration equipment.

Utah taxpayers are spending about $4.1 million on the speed-skating oval project, and Kearns residents will help cover the operation and maintenance costs.

Kearns residents lobbied hard for the facility, which was planned adjacent to the University of Utah until protests led the Sports Authority to look for a new site.

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