HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - This month, Huntsville city leaders approved funding $11.1 million to the Huntsville Iceplex to keep the place cool in Phase Two of a multi-million dollar expansion project.
Right now, we're in the midst of one of the hottest Septembers on record and it's not doing the ice rink any favors. They rely on compressors using R-22, a coolant that's being phased out by 2020.
Managers say with the new ammonia system, they're promising a better quality of ice for skaters and it's cheaper to maintain.
With four brand new locker rooms, Huntsville Iceplex manager Steve Clough is eager to show off a year's worth of hard work. The locker rooms were paid for thanks to $7 million in funding from the city.
The new space means more room for skaters of all ages. But Clough says Phase Two will likely mean more growing pains.
"We're phasing out the freon, getting rid of the methanol and going with probably the most common system there is in ice rinks," Huntsville Iceplex facilities manager Steve Clough said.
With obsolete compressors running outside the building, cooled by a sprinkler, Clough says it's in dire need of an upgrade, but it's not cheap.
"A third sheet of ice is something we can look at in the future. But right now, we have to look at the time of a 24-year-old facility," Clough said.
The city initially promised $8 million for a new cooling system and electrical work, but Clough's bid came back at $12 million.
"And then reality comes in and says, 'OK, the budget is this, how do we make that budget work?'"
Clough says the construction is a one-year timeline. Ideally, Lee Builders would start work on October 7, and they're trying to push back the bulk of the electrical and mechanical work. That would allow most of the youth sports to finish their seasons before they have to shut down rink access.
"We'll do everything possible to keep ice as long as we can," said Clough. "Even if it's only one sheet."
This winter, the rink will run at full steam, with skaters and hockey teams and curling constantly angling for ice time. From March through September of next year, Clough says the ice will likely be off-limits to skaters.
Clough says they plan to open the new locker rooms to families in October.
He's also promising some Iceplex website updates to keep people informed once the construction starts, in what he calls 'State of the Rink' progress reports.