City hoping that a temporary fix can get ice rink working in a week

The City is having their chiller machine taken apart to see they can plug leaks until spring and install a new machine then.

Prince Rupert may be able lace up the skates again soon.

Inoperative ice-making equipment at the Prince Rupert Civic Centre has relegated hockey players to dryland training and skaters in general to a trek down the highway to Terrace for the closest possible ice.

However, Civic Centre staff are now looking at a temporary fix by the contractor hired to repair the system that will keep it running until the broken equipment can be replaced.

If a temporary fix doesn’t work, ice-users will still have to wait until November before they can use the rink.

An ammonia leak in the chiller portion of the ice-making equipment is suspected to be the cause, but so far, the leak has not been visually inspected.

The ammonia pipes are located inside larger pipes filled with saltwater. The only way to actually see them is to take the machine apart; an expensive and time-consuming proposition. They know the leak is there is because the water from Prince Rupert’s chiller has high levels of ammonia in it.

“Ammonia is absorbed by water, but when the brine is saturated with it, then you have problems,” says Kevin Brown, a mechanic from BC Coastal Refrigeration Limited.

This weekend, Brown will be taking the equipment apart hoping to diagnose the extent of the leak and whether a temporary fix is possible.

“It’s an enclosed vessel, so it’s impossible to tell the conditions of the pipes without doing a tear-down all the time, which isn’t done . . . that would be a lot of money that would be wasted if you did it all the time,” says Brown.

After the ammonia pipes are exposed, Brown will pump them full of nitrogen – a safer option than ammonia —and look for the holes where the gas is escaping. The hope is that the leak will be localized to only a few of the pipes, which could simply be plugged.

“We’ll see how many tubes are damaged and then make an assessment from that point if it’s worth plugging a few pipes, or if it’s multiple pipes, then we’ll have to condemn it,” he said.

If Brown can manage to get the machine working again it would only be a temporary solution, and would not change the fact that the chiller needs to be replaced. But it would also mean the skating rink would be able to re-open in approximately seven to 10 days.

Opening up the machine could be a costly gamble, however, if Brown finds that the machine can’t be patched or the fix doesn’t work. But it’s a chance the City is willing to take in order to get the rink operating again sooner.

“The main concern of the City is that if we go ahead and do this and spend tens of thousands of dollars to try to patch it up and hope it lasts a season . . . are we throwing good money after bad?,” says Rudy Kelly, Prince Rupert’s recreation director.