Norwich Ice Rink Authority to seek cost estimate on latest repairs

Norwich - The Ice Rink Authority held an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss Monday's new failure of the aging cooling system at the city-owned rink and voted to get a cost estimate to evaluate the mechanical equipment to determine the damage and repair costs.

The authority voted unanimously to spend no more than $4,000 to hire National Refrigeration Inc. to evaluate the new problem that set off alarms Monday afternoon. The evaluation should determine whether a new temporary repair can be done inexpensively to reopen the rink, authority members said.

If the evaluation estimate exceeds $4,000, the authority would have to decide whether to go through with the work.

The city will receive bids today for a new cooling system for the rink, but the process for reviewing the bids and possibly choosing a contractor could take months. The goal of temporary repairs would be to get the rink through that period.

Closing the rink for the entire summer - from now to the end of August - would cost an estimated $98,000 to $108,000 in lost revenues, not including unemployment costs for the two full-time workers and several part-time staff, the authority learned Tuesday.

Rink Authority Chairman Francois "Pete" Desaulniers said if an immediate repair can be done, the rink could reopen in two weeks.

Desaulniers said box office manager Shannon Fitzgerald heard the high-liquid alarm Monday afternoon and called National Refrigeration for service immediately to check on the problem. The cooling system had to be shut down, causing the ice to melt. Desaulniers said there was no ammonia leak, as happened with the Feb. 13 cooling system failure that forced the rink to close for a month. That repair cost $74,000, not including lost revenues.

The rink was running at a $98,000 deficit through March because of the Feb. 13 closure.

Desaulniers said the new problem could be a rupture of one or more of the 334 functioning tubes inside the cooling system. Four tubes were leaking in the first incident and had to be shut off, Desaulniers said.

The latest problem adds to the rink's financial woes, coming one week after the authority presented a 2013-14 budget to the City Council that calls for a $15,000 profit next year that would be used to start paying back the city for budget subsidies and loans over the past decade that total nearly $330,000.

The City Council would have to be involved with any decision on the major expense of replacing the cooling system at the rink.

"This is the worst time ever to have to go to the council and say 'we need money,'" Desaulniers said.


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