City spending more than $20 million to upgrade ice rinks

Doyle Woody

The city on Friday announced plans to make significant upgrades to its four aging indoor ice arenas, using $20.6 million in state grants to replace or improve refrigeration systems and make other enhancements.

The rink repairs to Sullivan Arena, Ben Boeke Ice Arena, Dempsey Anderson Ice Arena and the McDonald Center in Eagle River will begin next spring, in phases, and continue through 2016.

The city said work will begin at Sullivan Arena and the McDonald Center in late spring next year, with improvements at Ben Boeke set for 2015 and upgrades at Dempsey Anderson scheduled for 2016. Repairs will take place during summer months because those comprise hockey's offseason, when demand for ice time drops substantially.

Refrigeration systems at McDonald, Boeke and Dempsey, which currently use Freon systems, will be replaced with more efficient, and modern, ammonia-based systems. Freon from those rinks will be stored for use at Sullivan Arena, which will undergo an upgrade of its current Freon system.

Sullivan Arena also will be outfitted with new dasher boards -- those are the boards that surround the ice surface -- and plexiglass. Dempsey and McDonald will likewise get new boards and glass, as will Rink No. 2 at Boeke. The boards and glass at Boeke's Rink No. 1 were recently replaced.

The city has earmarked $5.9 million for work at Ben Boeke and $5.8 million for work at Dempsey Anderson -- both facilities feature two sheets of ice -- as well as $4.8 million for upgrades at Sullivan and $4 million for repairs at the McDonald Center. Both Sullivan and McDonald each have one rink.

Mayor Dan Sullivan -- Sullivan Arena is named after his father, the late George Sullivan, a former mayor -- said in a written statement e he was thankful the city received funding from the legislature.

"I'm appreciative for the strong relationship between the Municipality of Anchorage and the lawmakers in Juneau,'' Sullivan said.

The upgrades are necessary for several reasons.

• All four rinks are old. Boeke opened in 1974, with the second rink added in 1979. Sullivan opened in 1983 and the McDonald Center in 1984. Dempsey Anderson opened in 1983 and its second rink was added in 1999.

• The current refrigeration systems in those rinks are commonly considered to be good for 20 years, and all four systems are older than that.

• And environmental regulations are phasing out Freon-based systems, which makes finding replacement parts difficult.

"You're looking at 30 years,'' said John Rodda, director of the city's Parks and Recreation department. "Times have changed, conditions have changed and regulations have changed.''

Corroded piping beneath the floor at Sullivan Arena a year ago allowed ground water to leak into the refrigeration system and compromised the ability to make ice. That problem threatened the Alaska Aces' annual exhibition games and UAA's season-opening Kendall Hockey Classic, but a series of repairs allowed ice to be made and averted a crisis.

McDonald Center general manager Reid McDonald -- the building is named after his late father, Harry McDonald -- said the rink there was without ice for about five weeks this summer when a valve seized. Fortunately, Norm Long, the long-time maintenance guru at Sullivan Arena, found a spare part at Sullivan. McDonald said he's eager for the upgrades, which are necessary because the refrigeration systems in city rinks are so old.

"We're on borrowed time, like everyone else,'' McDonald said.

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