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Norwich rink officials outline options to city

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published May 29. 2013 4:00AM
Questions remain: Repair or replace chiller system? And how to finance it?

Norwich - The Ice Rink Authority could ask the city for "some means of financing" to repair the current ice rink cooling system by replacing all of the more than 300 tubes that comprise the chiller system.

The authority held a special meeting Tuesday to review options for repairing the aging system to get the rink reopened while the authority reviews the four bids received to design a new cooling system.

The authority could not vote on the repair method, however, without better cost estimates for replacing the tubes in the system - estimated by the system manufacturer to be "significantly less costly" than the $50,000 to $60,000 cost to replace the entire chiller unit.

Authority members will contact companies that specialize in tube work this week for cost estimates and will meet again on Tuesday to discuss the costs and financing options.

Authority Chairman Francois "Pete" Desaulniers sent a memo to City Manager Alan Bergren, city Comptroller Joseph Ruffo and city Purchasing Agent William Block outlining the options and asking for financing options.

"Is there some means of financing that we can use to accomplish this, and what would be the fastest process?" Desaulniers wrote. "I believe the replacement of the tubes would be the best and would provide the city and the rink the best results."

Continued city financial support for the struggling ice rink has become controversial in recent months. The rink has lost money for years, requiring cash advances or straight budgeted subsidies to balance the books. The authority is expected to repay the debt as a loan, which now totals about $330,000.

This fiscal year was supposed to mark the end of the subsidies and the start of repayment, with the authority expected to finish with a small profit. But the Feb. 13 mechanical failure caused by four leaking tubes that also led to an ammonia leak and shut down the rink for a month erased the surplus and turned it into a $60,000 deficit through March.

The repaired system lasted only three weeks, as another tube leak forced a second shutdown that is ongoing.

During the April 29 budget workshop on the ice rink budget, authority members told the City Council that there would be no requested subsidy in the 2013-14 budget year, and the rink budget anticipated a $15,000 surplus - before the second mechanical failure and shutdown.

"I believe we all want the rink to succeed, and it is unfortunate that the breakdown occurred as it did, but with that said, I believe no one wants another YMCA," Desaulniers wrote to city officials, referring to the closure four years ago of the YMCA on Main Street amid rising debt and that building's aging heating system. The building remains vacant.

c.bessette@theday.com

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