By Nikki Jamieson
With this winter’s ice season cut short, town council is facing the question of how to get ice ready again for next winter.
During their regular March 6 meeting, Vauxhall town council discussed the issue of the broken chiller for the town’s arena and curling rink.
On Thursday, Feb. 23, the chiller had failed, causing the ice facilities to shut down and sent groups scrambling to find suitable alternatives or cancelling events.
“For the arena chiller, you can’t run that building without it,” said Martin Kondor, Vauxhall councillor, who was running the meeting after a vote due to mayor Margaret Plumtree and deputy-mayor Richard Phillips being absent. “You can’t make ice without a chiller… Everything else can have a backup, but your chiller is important.”
According to a memo from administration, when the chiller failed, it caused the primary — ammonia side — and secondary — brine side — to mix together, causing contaminated fluids to mix together and flow throughout the cooling system.
CAO Cris Burns told council that that evening, when someone checked on the ice plant, they found oil coming out of the compressor, “which is not common”.
“What happened was the chiller imploded, the tubing inside corroded or something, the pressure built up inside and it imploded inside the vessel itself,” said Burns. “It mixed the ammonia with the brine system — brine system flow through the slab which makes the slab cold. Ammonia system pumps, cools that brine with a separate barrier. The barrier broke, and ammonia and brine mixed together throughout.”
They had service people take a look at it, and they figured that if they could repair the system, it would take at least a week to fix. By Sunday, Feb. 26, the ice had completely melted. If they made the repairs necessary, it will take seven days to rebuild the ice.
“Not to say its the best thing that happened; the convenience of it happening towards the end of the season, was better than it going mid-season.”
Burns has also contacted the insurance company about the chiller, and are waiting on quotes from the two different companies. Last December, they had received a quote of $190,000 for the chiller and condenser. It was recommended that the town replaces the chiller, condenser and headers, as the latter are corroded. Administration is not sure what insurance will pay to be replaced, as they haven’t received that information yet.
Coun. Kim Cawley asked if there was any damage under the slab itself. Burns believed that there wasn’t any, however, as it is an internal problem to the system, there may be more damage then they thought, and have opened up the compressors to make sure.
Most of the service groups that use the ice surfaces were at the arena at the time the chiller had “blown up”, getting ready for other events. Administration had met with them, with some groups making alternative arrangements, such as the figure skating club moving their carnival to Lomond and the hockey association moving games and practices to a different arena. Other groups, like the curling club, had to stop their season early and had to cancel a big fundraiser.
“I was really pleased to see everyone’s reaction, it was very positive. They just made the best out of it which was very great,” said Cawley, acknowledging that there was a bit of stress from the situation. “But they made the best of it. And it’s good to see that, yeah, people are understanding.”
Burns reminded council that there is money set aside for the chiller replacement, as part of their reserves, and the chiller was about 10 years old, although they thought to get 15-20 years out of it.
Cawley inquired about whether they could get used equipment to replace what they need, as she had heard of a Medicine Hat arena with fairly new equipment. Administration would have to investigate that.
Although the tubing involved can be done at any time, it will take at least six weeks for the chiller and parts to come in, and a month for the condenser. Once the quotes come in, they can call a special council meeting if needed. They may also be able to get some Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding. Council passed a motion to get quotes for a new arena chiller.