Norwich officials consider how to repair rink, which could reopen in the next two weeks

Norwich - The Norwich Municipal Ice Rink is expected to open within the next two weeks using a rented chiller from the Carrier company, and may never need to replace the damaged compressor cooling system that caused an ammonia leak and forced the evacuation of the rink last week.

The leak, which occurred last Wednesday evening, sent a salty liquid into the compressor system, causing damage to the equipment.

As rink officials and contractors flush out the estimated 4,000 gallons of contaminated liquid and install the temporary chiller this week, the Ice Rink Authority is poised to vote Thursday on whether to go forward with a $1.1 million proposal to build a geothermal heating and cooling system at the city-owned rink.

During a special meeting on Saturday, the authority decided to rent a temporary chiller at a cost of $14,000 per month to reopen the rink as soon as the damaged system can be flushed, the ice subsurface repainted and the new ice formed.

Rink Manager Mia Sanca estimated Monday it could take another 10 to 14 days before the rink can reopen. Meanwhile, the rink is losing revenue from planned hockey tournaments, hockey practice sessions and other skating programs.

Authority Chairman Francois "Pete" Desaulniers said Monday that the authority is expected to vote Thursday on the proposal from the Michigan-based geothermal system company Thermo Source to make the Norwich rink the first in New England to use its technology. A rink in Plymouth, Mich., and one in Jamesville, Wis., currently use the technology.

The authority meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the rink.

Desaulniers said it likely would be cheaper for the rink to continue to rent the chiller system than to repair the damaged system, estimated at anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 depending on the extent of the damage.

If the authority accepts Thermo Source's proposal, installation could take eight weeks. The plan calls for drilling 15 feet down into the ground near the rink and extending the geothermal line horizontally for 500 feet beneath the rear parking lot.

City finance officials, however, said the proposal would have to be put out to bid before the rink could accept a specific company's proposal.

The authority did get some good news over the weekend. After testing the brine, officials at Norwich Public Utilities determined the liquid could be accepted at the city sewage treatment plant, avoiding the need for expensive disposal costs. NPU spokesman Michael Hughes said the utility will store the liquid and release it slowly into the sewer system at no additional cost to the utility.

Desaulniers said he does not have an estimate from NPU on the cost of the disposal to the authority. He also asked the city Public Works Department to clear snow away from the ice rink building to allow contractors easier access to the building to install the temporary system. Public Works will bill that work to the authority as well.

The leak and equipment damage came at a time when the financially troubled rink was turning the corner after years of losing money. The rink was expected to turn a small profit at the end of this fiscal year.

The city's insurance carrier is reviewing the equipment damage and loss of revenue during the shutdown. Desaulniers said he did not have answers yet on those inquiries.

c.bessette@theday.com

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