South Charlotte

Family devoted to backyard ice rink

Some families have pools in the backyard. Others have playgrounds or trampolines.

The Schoubert family, who live off Rea Road near Stonecrest shopping center, has an ice-skating rink.

Jean-Paul Schoubert, 46, was born in Connecticut but grew up in France. As a child, he was always around snow and ice.

He later moved to Tampa, Fla., and attended the University of South Florida, where he met his wife, Kim. He spent 10 years there.

"It does something to your mental state to not have seasons," Jean-Paul said. "We weren't around anything cold for so long."

Before moving to Charlotte, Kim had never seen the seasons change. She said the family now puts special emphasis on seasonal changes.

In honor of winter, Jean-Paul said, he decided to build an ice rink in the backyard of his Ravencrest home four years ago.

"We started small, and I was really surprised on how simple and easy it was," he said. "The trick, I found, was that you need a flat surface. When you look at the yard it looks flat, but it's really not."

With help from Kim and their two children - Alexa and Martine, now ages 10 and 13 - Jean-Paul laid two-by-fours to build a frame. After getting the spot level, they used a plastic tarp as a liner and filled it with water.

The first rink was 4 feet by 6 feet, but it has grown each year; it's now 20 feet by 20 feet.

According to Jean-Paul, they need at least three nights in the 20s for the ice to freeze at least two inches thick, which prevents it from cracking when the kids are on it.

While this winter has been warm, the Schouberts have had at least one good freeze. The kids invented ice games, played curling and entertained scores of neighborhood children.

Alexa, Martine and four neighborhood children talk with enthusiasm about the games they have created. No one has ever used actual ice skates on the rink, but the children don't seem to mind skating in their shoes.

Even when the water is not completely frozen, the children, ranging in age from 8 to 13, use the rink as a playground. They often place objects in the bottom of the shallow pool, waiting for another freeze to hold the object in place.

"The whole reason why we do it is because we get 20 kids out here acting like kids," Jean-Paul said. "They're just having a great time."

"It's been a really great way to give all the kids something to do outside," Kim said. "They will go out there at night when it's freezing cold and they don't care. Every morning, Martine and Alexa go out in their PJs with boots on and heavy coats to check the ice rink."

A fence surrounds the yard, preventing random admirers from getting too close, but most of the neighborhood families are happy to have a place where their children can spend a day outside in the company of other children.

The Schouberts live by the motto, "Please excuse the mess, our kids are making memories." Jean-Paul says he wants to inspire people to do things with their kids and be a little crazy.

Though Kim said she sometimes feels overwhelmed by children tracking mud in from the backyard, projects scattered throughout the house and home-schooling Martine, she says it is all worth it.

Jean-Paul works with Bank of America and Kim works from home part-time in advertising design.