As the refrigeration systems at the Civic Center and VFW Memorial Arena age and rack up maintenance costs, East Grand Forks leaders are getting ready to figure out their options.
They could continue to buy R-22, the gaseous refrigerant that both facilities use to keep their ice rinks cold, as an EPA-mandated deadline to stop producing it draws near and prices fluctuate. They could also, Parks and Recreation Director Reid Huttunen told City Council members, replace the ice systems at those arenas. Or, he said, they could opt to build a new arena and turn the VFW into a multipurpose facility.
City council members are set to consider approving next week a study that will explore those options. The low bidder to conduct it was JLG Architects, which the city is set to pay $10,000 to do so, pending council approval. The next lowest of the six bids city staff opened was $37,000 plus “reimbursables” by Ubl Design.
And, shorter-term, Huttunen briefed council members on a plan to buy about 2,000 pounds of R-22 from Midwest Refrigeration at $12.59 per pound -- $25,180 in all. The city has about 450 pounds stockpiled, which staff draw from whenever they need to patch up part of the refrigeration systems. The city has used about 1,500 pounds of it over the past six years, Huttunen estimated.
“If we never had an issue in our arenas, never had a repair or never had a leak or anything like that, the refrigeration that’s in the system could hypothetically be there forever,” he told the Herald.
The city has no line item for the R-22 purchase, but Huttunen told council members there is some wiggle room in the city’s repairs and maintenance fund. Nonetheless, it’s closer to an “unbudgeted purchase” -- but Huttunen cautiously characterized the expenditure as an investment and noted that the city, if it switches to a system that uses a different coolant, could re-sell its stock to, for instance, the Ralph Engelstad Arena across the river.
“They’ve already called and said if we decide to do anything with our arenas, they want to be able to have an opportunity to buy any of the R-22 we have,” Huttunen said.
Ward 2 City Council member Dale Helms urged the city to move on the purchase.
“If we do a new rink, we’re three years off,” said Ward 3 Councilman Tim Riopelle. “So it’s a good investment for us.”