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Norwich ice rink scheduled to reopen today

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published October 07. 2013 3:00PM   Updated October 08. 2013 12:21AM

Norwich — For the first time since May, figure skaters and hockey players will be able to lace up their skates and take the ice at the Norwich Municipal Ice Rink today.

The rink reopens at 2 p.m. after resolving mechanical problems that have shuttered the facility since May 6. A busy schedule is planned, rink Director Doug Roberts said Monday.

Figure skaters in training and their coaches will practice from 2 to 5:30 p.m. today. At 6 p.m., Southeastern Connecticut Youth Hockey will take the ice, and Roberts said there may be an open “stick time” after 8 p.m.

The rink will open early Wednesday, when a group of hockey players from Pfizer Inc. skate at 6 a.m. The Pfizer group will return Friday at 6 a.m. Roberts said the Pfizer group has been eager to get back on the ice and invited him to join them. Roberts played hockey at Connecticut College and played professionally in Europe.

“They’ve been checking in,” Roberts said. “They want to know when they can get back at it.”

The first public skates will be held Wednesday from 1 to 2:20 p.m., Friday from 1 to 2:20 p.m. and again from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. Public skating will be held Saturday from 3:30 to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 2:20 p.m.

Roberts said he would like to expand public skating at the rink, probably starting by expanding the weekend sessions to two hours.

“I just think the two-hour time slots are more doable for everybody,” Roberts said. “Public skating is something we’re very interested in.”

Roberts said the pro shop will offer skate sharpening, and both the shop and the rink concession stand will be run by rink staff for now. Roberts said rink officials have to decide whether to lease them to outside vendors or continue running them in-house. The rink could bring in equipment from a larger pro shop in the region to sell on consignment as another option.

The rink has been plagued by mechanical problems since February, when an ammonia leak in the cooling system forced an emergency evacuation and closed the rink for a month. The repair lasted only until May 6, when another malfunction shut the aging 17-year-old system down.

The Ice Rink Authority worked with Trane to bring in a temporary outdoor chiller unit, but more problems with the ammonia brine delayed the reopening. Roberts said a new temporary heat exchanger with a glycol system was installed last week and worked immediately.

Rink Authority Chairman Francois “Pete” Desaulniers said he does not yet know what the extended shutdown and repairs cost the authority.

The rink has struggled financially for years and now owes the city more than $400,000 in subsidies and repair funds. The authority has pledged to repay the debt now that revenue is flowing again.

“That’s the big thing now, bringing in revenue,” Desaulniers said.

The authority will hold a special meeting tonight at 7 at the rink to discuss the shutdown, reopening and to begin planning for a permanent replacement to the rink’s cooling system.

c.bessette@theday.com

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