Temporary chiller unit to arrive at Norwich ice rink Friday

Norwich — A temporary rented chiller unit is expected to arrive Friday morning at the Norwich Municipal Ice Rink, and the rink could reopen by Sept. 1 once the system is operating and the floor cooled enough to make ice.

The Ice Rink Authority also is in contract negotiations with a finalist to fill the vacant rink manager position, Authority Chairman Francois "Pete" Desaulniers said. The new director could start by Sept. 1, pending the outcome of a negotiating session scheduled for Tuesday, he said.

The financially struggling city-owned rink has been closed since May 6, when the nearly 20-year-old chiller unit malfunctioned for the second time in three months. After initial indecision on how and when to reopen the rink, the authority decided in June to purchase a temporary chiller unit to open the rink as soon as possible to bring in revenue while a permanent new rink cooling unit is sought.

Desaulniers said the new permanent heat exchanger will be a different technology than the aging ammonia-based unit that failed.

Jeff Brining, energy services division manager for Norwich Public Utilities and NPU's technical adviser working with the rink authority, told the authority Thursday that the chiller is expected to arrive today.

Piping already is installed, but other work will be needed before the rink reopens, Brining said. The cooled salt water brine beneath the floor will need to be treated, and the concrete floor must be cooled before ice can be created. The bottom layer of ice will have to be painted before the final layer of ice is poured.

Brining estimated the rink could open by the end of August.

The temporary chiller rental will be about $14,000 per month and is expected to be needed for at least three months. The entire installation job is estimated to cost $90,000, including some equipment and upgrades that will remain in place permanently. NPU donated a $13,000 high-powered 600-amp electrical switch to power the temporary chiller.

Once a permanent new cooling system is installed, the temporary unit will remain on site for two weeks as a backup in case of difficulties, Brining said.

The piping, valves and electrical systems for the temporary unit will be owned permanently by the rink, so if there are future short-term shutdowns, a temporary chiller can be rented again and installed quickly without need of a rink shutdown.

Anticipating the return to normal operations, the rink authority on Thursday approved rink rental rates — the same as during the 2012-13 fiscal year — and is working on contracts with the regular hockey and figure skating groups that rent ice space.

One of the first tenants likely will be the Connecticut College hockey team, which has asked to rent the rink on Monday and Thursday mornings in September starting Sept. 2. The Figure Skating Club also plans to run its annual Nutcracker on Ice show in November.

Authority members said they are excited at the prospects of reopening the rink, installing a new permanent cooling system and hiring a new director.

Desaulniers pledged that the rink would offer full services once it reopens, including hockey, figure skating and open public skating sessions and learn-to-skate classes.

"Once this new director is on board and the rink is operating, nobody's going to want to privatize this place," Desaulniers said referring to a suggestion made by critics in the wake of the rink's annual financial deficits and mechanical problems.

c.bessette@theday.com

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