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Skating on Thin Ice


An aging recreational facility in the Town of Swan River is causing current council members and administration to pay attention to a major problem that has stakeholders holding their breath and crossing their fingers.
An ongoing matter that likely isn’t news to many, official reports indicate that repairs to the ice surface at Swan River Centennial Arena are the single most important issue to pay attention to at the facility.
Town of Swan River Mayor Lance Jacobson said that the heightened awareness of the 50-plus year old arena was brought to attention last season when staff noticed that the cooling lines for the artificial ice surface were losing a significant amount of brine. The solution at that time was to add more, and the system seemed to sort itself out.
“We then went ahead and got a consultant to do a study of the whole envelope of the building to see what we needed to do, where the problems were, and get some advice on that,” said Jacobson, who was deputy mayor during the last term of council.
The report received in October mentioned issues such as needing some attention to the outer siding, some drainage issues, and the humidification inside of the building. But, the biggest issue was the ice surface area.
“Now that we have that report given to us, we’re now looking at that and trying to make some decisions as far as what needs to be done,” said Jacobson. “It’s not an easy process.
“So far this season, we have been losing more brine and adding as long as we can add it so that it will remain frozen. But, we are losing brine continually. Some days it doesn’t do anything, and other days it does drop down.”
While the brine levels in the cooling lines were always monitored regularly, the expected level of maintenance needed was never as frequently as now. While the costs may not be considered exorbitant, this maintenance does come with an additional cost.
“The cost depends on how much brine needs to be added and how often,” said Town of Swan River General Manager of Recreation Patti Henkelman. “This has varied recently, but the material cost to refill an empty brine expansion tank is approximately $260.”
As of right now, Jacobson added that council isn’t fully aware of what their options are until they receive another consultant’s report about the best way to tackle this issue, and what the estimated costs are that are going to be involved with a major repair.
Even without a further official report on the solution to the issue, Jacobson suspects that the problem will be much more than repairing a few broken lines under the ice surface.
“You can’t pinpoint a leak and jackhammer just one section out,” he said. “There could be multiple leaks and we really don’t know. We may have to remove the entire ice surface and redo it. And, you have to deal with what is underneath there.”
Jacobson explained how the arena was never properly designed to accommodate artificial ice when it was built around the time of Canada’s centennial, opening to the public on Dec. 23, 1968.
“I believe, at the time, they had real ice in there,” he said. “I believe that they put artificial ice in about two years later. And, a lot of the technology and what they use for building ice surfaces today are a lot different than what they had back then.”
Jacobson speculated that there was no insulation underneath the cement layer that the ice sits on, and with the surface being frozen for nearly eight months or more out of the year, frost gets pushed into the ground – a frost that never has much of a chance to thaw and only gets worse.
“They would have to do some testing on it yet, but it could be as much as 12 feet deep,” said Jacobson.
The frost has been causing some heaving in the ice surface, and the heaving has made the cooling lines suspectible to breaking.
“(You can’t) just rebuild a cement pad over top of an existing problem, even with a layer of insulation, because that ground is then eventually going to thaw, the ground is going to drop, and you are going to have more issues,” said Jacobson. “This is not going to be a cheap problem to fix. It’s going to be expensive, like all arenas. And, if you want to have an arena, you have to fix the ice surface.”
Jacobson said that until they know more about their options, their current goal is to make sure that the arena continues to sufficiently operate until the end of the season.
“The Junior A Stampeders are having a good year, and if they continue the way they are right now, they are going to have a bit of a longer season. So we are going to make sure that we can limp through it to the end.”
Jacobson acknowledged that communication is important with the local organizations that use the facility, particularly the local MJHL team, so that contingency plans can be made in the event that the condition of the ice surface worsens and cannot be maintained.
And, while maintaining aging buildings is a problem that every town has to deal with, this particular problem is one that has been known for some time. Long before Jacobson’s tenure on council, a report was done in 2001/2002 in which it was recommended to replace the existing ice surface slab.
“There was an upgrade done in 2005 (at the arena), which did not include ice slab replacement,” said Henkelman.
Further reports from consultants are expected to be completed in the coming months.

Jeremy Bergen