Two weeks ago, as Ridgeland Common staff closed down the park district’s pool and prepared to gear up for ice rink operations, they made a disheartening but not totally unexpected discovery.

The 45-year-old pipes under the rink that hold the cooling element were leaking like a sieve.

“The pipes were severely corroded,” said Matt Ellmann, recreation superintendent. “We discovered it when we started pumping glycol into the pipes and realized we were using far more than usual.”

Greatly complicating the problem was the fact that the pipes are encased in concrete. Raising the pressure even more was the fact that renaming the ice rink for longtime volunteer Paul Hruby was scheduled for this Saturday, Sept. 29.

“The dedication is going forward regardless,” said Ellmann. “The question is whether it happens on an ice surface or not.”

After some consultation with York, Inc. and Spannuth Boiler, Ellmann and facility director Bill Hamilton decided the pipes could be repaired in place using a metal liner that would be placed inside the old pipes and slowly expanded to seal any leaks.

That process took place last weekend and was finished Monday morning. Pressure tests on the system indicated the system was sealed. Monday afternoon, staff finished filling the system with glycol, and the compressor was turned on that evening.

Ellmann estimates the process will take about three days if all goes smoothly.

“It’s two days to get the core temperature down to 16 degrees [Fahrenheit],” he said. “Then we start making ice.” After establishing a base layer of ice, that layer is painted, and additional layers are created on top.

Now if the weather would only cooperate. With temperatures hitting record highs Monday afternoon, the environment was anything but ideal for an ice skating surface.

Ellman said park district staff would work “around the clock” if necessary. “We’re going to work hard to make quality ice.”

Round-the-clock may be required. Hamilton said numerous air pockets in the pipes had delayed the compressor start-up until Monday night. With the compressors running Tuesday morning, Hamilton said it’s now “a waiting game” as the core temperature slowly drops. With overnight temperatures predicted to be below 50 degrees the rest of the week, Ellmann felt more confident that park staff would have the rink up and running by Saturday

The cooling system breakdown is just the latest problem stemming from dealing with an antiquated and decaying facility. Besides routinely stressing building staff, the current snafu has cost the park district significantly both in expense and lost revenues. “It’s definitely tens of thousands of dollars,” said Ellmann, who said final figures aren’t yet available.

As they have for the past few years, the park district is attempting short-term fixes as administrative staff and its board of commissioners decide whether to renovate or completely replace the 45-year-old facility.

“It’s definitely an example of how this facility has aged and is beyond its life span,” Ellmann said of the decrepit pipes. Other ice rinks built after Ridgeland Common’s, he said, have already undergone major rebuilds or replacement.

“This is a tired and aged facility that will continue to experience system failures.”

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