There are more than 4,000 municipal and community ice arenas currently operating across the U.S. These ice arenas offer communities a healthy way to connect and stay active. Maintaining ice arenas facilities can be challenging and improving them can be costly. Additionally, the energy and operational costs needed to run ice arenas continues to increase year after year.
Ice arenas are complex facilities. To provide a quality ice surface, they must maintain proper ice temperature with appropriate amounts of humidity, all while maintaining a comfortable environment for the athletes, coaches, spectators, facility managers and the members of the community who attend events at the facility.
McKinstry partners with ice arenas and recreational facilities across the country to develop and implement solutions to address deferred maintenance items and make improvements to the facility with the goal of reducing energy and operational spend. We are passionate about the game and committed to finding ways to make hockey and other ice activities affordable for everyone.
McKinstry works hard to drive down ice arena operating costs. Our Midwest team, in particular, grew up on the ice as players, coaches and on-ice officials at the high school, collegiate and professional level. All of us have been hockey parents and one of our teammates is a current member of the off-ice officiating staff for the NHL. My colleague Susie MacMillan operated an ice arena before joining McKinstry. That passion for hockey and ice arenas is why the Brookings City Council in South Dakota trusted McKinstry to be their partner for the Larson Ice Center renovation project.
Larson Ice Center
The Larson Ice Center opened in 2002 and hosts more than 400,000 visitors each year. The two-rink facility is home to the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits club hockey team, the Brookings Rangers and the Brookings Figure Skating Club. The facility seats approximately 2,000 in the main rink and 600 in the second rink. There are 10 locker rooms, concessions and a large heated viewing area.
Larson is a civic jewel in Brookings that delivers economic benefit to the region. That benefit was threatened by aging systems, ice floor issues and other deferred maintenance items. The center’s existing R22 indirect-glycol ice plant was inefficient, the subfloor heating did not work as intended and the heat exchanger failed. Additionally, the ice floor in the main rink started to heave and the subfloor heating system did not operate.
With the national phase out of R22 under the Montreal Protocol, most ice arenas are making the switch to indirect-ammonia ice plants. The Larson Ice Center is no exception. The city initially considered a direct-CO2 system, but selected an ammonia-based system for total cost of ownership and safety benefits.
Total Cost of Ownership and Safety Benefits
Indirect-ammonia systems are less expensive from a total cost of ownership perspective and easier to operate and maintain over their 30-year expected lifespan.
While it is true that a direct-CO2 system would use less energy to operate than most other ice plants, when you factor in the first cost of equipment and installation, it was clear that over the course of the life of the equipment, an indirect ammonia ice plant would save the city over $200,000 during that time span.
It is also important to mention that an indirect-ammonia system uses significantly less refrigerant. A direct-CO2 system would require approximately 10,000 pounds of refrigerant to maintain ice in the two rinks versus about 600 pounds of ammonia needed to operate a new indirect ice plant. This is an important cost and safety factor.
Indirect systems confine all refrigerant to the mechanical room where fail safes can be easily implemented. In Brookings, the fire department and primary code officials expressed no reservations with the use of ammonia refrigerants. The community can rest assured that the system is safe for athletes, spectators and everyone in the building.
What’s more, availability and proximity of experienced technicians for ammonia-based systems is far higher. Most ice rinks in the U.S. are considering or currently transitioning to indirect-ammonia systems.
McKinstry is currently working with Larson Ice Center and other recreation facilities across the nation to phase out aging R22 systems for lower cost and energy-efficient alternatives. We support our clients for the life of the building – long after initial installation. That’s important to us. We just can’t stand by and let bad ice happen.
Ed Zepeda is a McKinstry business development manager based in Minnesota. Prior to his passion for improving ice arenas, Ed spent his time in stripes. He’s served as an official for the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA), Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), Western Collegiate Hockey Association, Western Professional Hockey League/Central Hockey League and Minnesota State High School League. He was selected to officiate in seven NCAA tournaments, including three appearances in the championship game. He is currently the Coordinator of Ice Hockey Officials for the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) and the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) and the Scoring System Manager for the National Hockey League (NHL).