The High Country Sports Arena board of directors says it has been forced to stop paying three employees because of a quarter-million-dollar debt.

Board member Mark Steichen said that when the nonprofit arena on Camage Avenue, near the Sierra Pacific Industries mill in Standard was being built, fund-raising efforts to cover the costs of construction came up short.

"Basically, we're still sitting under the same situation," he said.

Employee Allen Mumford said he will continue to work at the arena as a volunteer, but declined further comment. Directors refused to name the other employee, but the third person whose pay has been deleted is Executive Director Ric Garcia.

"I got fired two weeks ago," Garcia said this morning. "How do you get fired from your own company?"

Garcia, who launched a massive fund-raising campaign and opened the arena in January 2002, said he is no longer associated with the arena and referred questions about the operation to board member Pat Greenwell.

Garcia is a former National Hockey League player. He had ambitious plans for the rink, including a mobile indoor skateboard park and a second phase of construction that would have included an Olympic-size competitive swimming pool. But those plans never materialized because there wasn't enough money.

The board made the pay-cut decision on Sept. 8. Steichen said he and board members still want Garcia involved, but as a volunteer.

"It's on a volunteer basis ... we want him involved, but it's a much more difficult decision for him," Steichen said.

The board has decided it's time to get all its debts cleared, Steichen said, and is planning several fund-raisers, including one in conjunction with Sierra Repertory Theatre in December, one with Papa Murphy's pizza and possibly a golf tournament in the spring.

It has been a slow summer for the rink, which remains open and offers roller skating and plays host to roller hockey and soccer teams.

Although there are swamp coolers inside, it's tough to keep the interior cool when the hot sun beats down on the metal siding, he said.

"The concept of the arena was that it would support itself," said board member Greenwell. "It was never designed to support debt."

The arena leases its building in an old plywood plant off Tuolumne Road from Sierra Pacific Industries. Steichen and Greenwell said the arena is behind in its rent.

"There are a lot of obligations that are basically all due," Steichen said.

Despite the financial problems, the board is looking forward to a speedy recovery and has a number of plans for the future.

The fall hockey season starts next week and adult soccer games are being held at the arena, Steichen said. The group also wants to start a youth soccer program indoors next year, he said.

"This should be a very positive thing going forward and should allow us to get rid of the debt that's out there and turn everything around so the kids have a place to play," he said.