Feature Article - September 2015
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Greener Practices, Smarter Operations

Trends in Ice Rink Management and Maintenance

By Chris Gelbach

Lights On for Energy Savings

An embrace of higher-efficiency lighting is contributing to significant energy savings in many ice rink facilities, as well. CEI Architecture shifted from metal halide lights to T5HO fluorescent lights in their designs several years ago because they offered the opportunity for instantaneous lighting and dimming in addition to saving significant energy. They're now seeing more applications where LED lighting is a good choice.

Martell likewise projects growth in the technology's adoption. "LED lighting is gaining in popularity, and I think that is going to happen very, very quickly because it's not only extremely energy-efficient, but the things also last forever," Martell said.

Mike Lorenz, president of a leading provider of LED lighting systems to ice rinks, has seen his firm equip dozens of ice rinks in North America, including seven AHL arenas. He estimates that the capital outlay can range from $50,000 to upwards of $500,000 to install an LED system in a major arena.

"The business case that we try to help our customers through is: Let's evaluate your current scenarios, look at what your objectives are, and see how we can make that affordable and defensible from an ROI perspective," Lorenz said.

The technology may be eligible for incentives based on energy efficiency that help to lower its cost. Lorenz also urges facilities to consider financing options when evaluating different technologies and vendors. "There are ways to put in [LED] systems that can be funded from the savings from the system," Lorenz said. "So the actual cost outlay can typically be reduced to either zero or a positive cash flow in having a new system."

The potential savings can often be greatest in new construction. "There, the decision is much easier to make because you end up needing far less electrical infrastructure just because the LED system will take less power, less backup and less conduit so all of those ancillary savings play a role in the analysis," Lorenz said.

Programming for Success

One thing that hasn't changed, according to Martell, is the need for most ice facilities to attract a broad recreational user base. This includes users at the impulse level, such as birthday party attendees or recreational skaters on a Friday night; the grassroots level, or people who are signed up in learn to skate or learn to play hockey classes; and the recreational level, including house league hockey programs and recreational figure skating programs that aren't especially expensive or time-consuming.

"These have to make up three-quarters of a rink's business in order for the rink to remain healthy," Martell said. "Because if you try and focus all of your attention on the elite aspect, it's such a small minority of the population that it gets the whole rink's ice time schedule and income structure totally out of whack."

In a further extension of the importance of recreational skaters, Hentze has seen a greater emphasis in recent years on leisure ice, sometimes in more freeform designs. "We're finding that the stuff we're working on right now, there is a shift," Hentze said. "And that shift is to making that leisure ice more programmable."

One example is the Rocky Ridge recreation facility in Calgary, which will feature a leisure skating complex. "We designed the leisure ice almost by using little islands that you could attach to the ice using goalpost technology to create different environments, almost like a stage set," Hentze said.

For another project, CEI has designed an ice slab for Sylvan Lake, Alberta, that's 200 feet long, so it can be potentially used for hockey, but that allows for 40 or 50 feet of that slab to remain unfrozen when the main area is used for curling. Dasher board inserts are built into the slab to allow the sheet of ice to be quickly converted for hockey use. "That kind of flexibility is something we're seeing a real demand for," Hentze said.