Feature Article - September 2015
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Greener Practices, Smarter Operations

Trends in Ice Rink Management and Maintenance

By Chris Gelbach

As the summer heat wanes, there's been no freeze in operations for most North American ice rinks. As these facilities strive to enhance their management and maintenance, they're doing so with a growing focus on green practices and technologies, year-round operations, and programming and facilities designed to attract a diverse recreational user base.

In With the New and Green

Some of these greener practices are most evident in new facilities. Mark Hentze, partner and director of recreation, culture and community for CEI Architecture, which has worked on several ice rink projects, has integrated a growing range of these practices into recent designs.

Among these efforts are choices such as the use of more recycled products, including nonporous recycled PVC products for toilets and a shift to flooring made out of recycled rubber tire. "That works fantastic for hockey skates because it has more give in it, more flexibility," Hentze said.

Newer facilities are also increasingly working to capture the heat inherently created by the refrigeration system. "We'll stick it into radiant floors to help heat the dressing rooms or spectator areas with radiant heat," Hentze said.

Designs that incorporate more natural lighting, particularly in the lobby areas, are providing both a higher-quality patron experience and reduced energy costs. Hentze's firm is also increasingly turning to the use of renewable materials like wood for roofs and other areas not prone to vandalism because they can enhance the aesthetic experience and the acoustics of the space for concerts.

Peter Martell, executive director of the Ice Skating Institute, isn't necessarily seeing a growth of new ice facilities at the municipal level that include the seating capacity for concerts and other events. But when Hentze works on larger facilities, he's seeing acoustics become an important consideration.

"The entertainment aspect is a request that ranges from a nice-to-have to a programmatic need on a lot of arenas that we're looking at now that are 400 seats up to three or four thousand," Hentze said. He's also seeing these facilities willing to incur higher heating and cooling costs to opt for a higher roof—25 feet versus 18 feet—to provide flexibility for other activities such as lacrosse and better acoustics for concerts.

Other design elements are helping facilities meet the needs of different user groups while eliminating the need to open up the entire facility at all times. One example is the increasing use of flex changing rooms, which can accommodate eight to 10 users, in addition to traditional full-size rooms that can fit 20. They can be used as a more spacious version of a referee room, or can accommodate a smaller group of female players on a coed team. "We found that it's also a great size for figure skaters," Hentze said. "It means that you could have five boy skaters and 10 girls, and now the arena doesn't have to clean a full-size dressing room."

As referee rooms give way to flex rooms, Hentze is also seeing the incorporation of mini-lockers at the timekeeper's bench to give refs a place to store wallets and other personal items more securely and help overcome traditional theft issues associated with ref rooms.

Since ice arena showers are often used mostly at limited intervals, such as after games, instantaneous heating is growing in popularity for some applications to achieve considerable energy savings. "You get that hot water when you need it, but when you're not using it, the heat exchangers that make that possible don't have to work the same way that a constant supply of hot water does," Hentze said.

Martell noted that by 2020, most facilities will be required to phase out the use of ozone-depleting Freon R-22 as their primary refrigerant, so he is seeing the majority turn to ammonia instead.

"Ammonia is not only the most economical but also the most efficient refrigerant out there," Martell said. "So we're seeing considerable return to the use of ammonia, and I know of a few facilities experimenting with CO2 as a primary refrigerant." Fortunately, Martell is seeing this be a concern in many cases for American facilities that were built in the '70s or '80s and that have the need to replace their floors and refrigeration plants anyway.

As facilities move to cut energy consumption, some leading-edge facilities have also adopted fuel-cell technology. For example, HP Pavilion, home of the San Jose Sharks, has installed fuel-cell energy servers capable of replacing roughly 90 percent of the electrical power used during non-even hours and roughly 25 percent on a Sharks game day.