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The Reel Clarington: Behind the scenes at a Clarington arena

An ice resurfacer cleans the ice at Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex

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Most Clarington residents have visited one of our hockey arenas. Hockey is a national past-time in Canada, whether you're watching your child play hockey, ice skating, play a game of shinny, or simply take advantage of open ice, we've all, at some point, been to an arena.

Ice pad at Garnet B. Rickard Recreation ComplexHave you ever wondered about the ice surface, what's underneath and how it's maintained? I had the chance to visit with Clarington's Community Services Department at the Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex and discover the inner workings of the arena.

I met with Facilities Manager George Acorn and Facility Supervisor Ken Ferguson. We discussed the ice surface and the complex system underneath. For example, Pad A at Garnet B. Rickard is made up of a concrete floor. That floor is cooled through a computerized refrigeration system to bring the surface temperature down to around minus six degrees Celsius. Then the ice resurfacer, more commonly known as a Zamboni, is brought out to flood the floor with a thin coat of hot water to create a bond.

Ice resurfacer"It's like a cake, we don't want the water or ice to separate from the sheet of concrete or else that would cause problems later on down the line where the ice would start peeling away," explained Ken. After, the rink is repeatedly flooded until the ice reaches a thickness of approximately a half a centimetre. The ice is then painted white, and flooded to bring the thickness up another half a centimetre. Following, the lines, goal creases and logos are all painted by hand and roller and laid out according to requirements set by Hockey Canada. The ice is once again flooded to reach the mandatory thickness of just under four centimetres. This process takes approximately four to five days to put an NHL-sized ice pad in place. 

Closed loop refrigeration system

"We deal with building humidity, outside temperature and also body heat. All these factors have an effect on ice temperature and need to be carefully monitored and regulated to maintain ice integrity," said Ken.

Within the concrete floor, there are several kilometres of PVC piping. It's a closed loop refrigeration system, similar to the back of the refrigerators we all have in our homes. A brine solution, made up of salt and water flows continuously through the pipes from one end of the rink to the other. It essentially grabs the heat from the floor and returns it to the system pumping it through a chilling process. "Every time you drive by an arena and see the steam coming from the roof, that's the heat we have grabbed from the surface, put cool air into it and evaporated it," explained Ken.

Ice resurfacer scraper

A key part of maintaining a quality ice surface is, of course, the ice resurfacer. 

This machine maintains the thickness of ice. "We need to keep ice thickness at around an inch and a half to ensure that our refrigeration system doesn't need to work harder than necessary," explained Ken. The ice resurfacer smooths out the ice; it will scrape down the ice, including any grooves or ruts caused through use. The machine creates slush and floods the ice with warm water, filling any remaining imperfections. The warm water has less air in it and creates a better quality ice surface. The shavings gathered by the machine are stored and later discarded outside. That's why you will see mounds of snow outside of an ice facility.

Ice resurfacer dumps snow outside of arenaIce arenas have a certain lifespan before costly replacements are needed. Garnet. B Rickard Recreation Complex was opened in 1988. After several years of leaks and stop-gap measures to extend the lifespan of Pad A, the flooring system is now scheduled to be replaced. It's a complicated process that involves isolating and pumping out all of the brine into containers. Then the floor system will be demolished and rebuilt with new piping and new concrete floor. "This project will take around four months from start to finish. It will be scheduled during the summer of 2018," explained George.

All of this has a price tag attached. This is where the Municipality budgets and raises money through taxes. The general operations and day-to-day costs of the refrigeration and cooling system are expensive. One of the largest expenses at an arena is the utility cost or the hydro cost of running the facility. At Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex that cost is in the $250,000 range. "Climate change has had an impact on our traditional six-month ice season. "We've experienced warmer temperatures that have affected our operations and forced the plant to work harder, run longer to keep an even temperature," explained George.

Year-round, Clarington's arenas are used by approximately 40,000 total recreational skaters with 12,000 hours of ice booked each year. On a daily basis, the facility has approximately six staff members, both full-time and part-time, running the arena. That involves ice maintenance, cleaning and customer service staff. "It's a very busy complex. We pride ourselves on quality, for people to come through the door with a smile on their face and leave with a smile on their face. That commitment requires quality staff, and that's what we have here," said Ken.

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