The City of Port Alberni has been given the green light to fire up the ice refrigeration plant at the Alberni Valley Multiplex.
“We accepted the city’s proposed plan on Nov. 22 with some minor additions that permit them to resume operation of the chiller for ice making,” Technical Safety BC wrote in a statement.
“That means we turn the plant on tonight (Nov. 22),” said Willa Thorpe, director of Parks, Recreation and Heritage for the City of Port Alberni.
She hopes to have ice in the Weyerhaeuser Arena side of the AV Multiplex by Friday, Nov. 29, and in the Coulson Rink by Monday, Dec. 2. “Normally it takes us two weeks to put in both sheets of ice. Seven days per sheet,” she said. “We’re going to truncate it.
“We’re extending shifts. We’ve got folks (working) more frequently and we’re looking at adding more staff members. It’s quite an art and balance to make ice. You can only freeze ice so fast,” Thorpe explained. “We’re not trying to make ice for one weekend or one game. We’re trying to make good ice…that will last to the end of the season.”
Thorpe said her staff is working with Alberni Valley Minor Hockey Association to see if they can salvage some of a novice hockey tournament that was scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 30-Dec. 1. “It’s going to be tricky to fit that in.
“I’m really impressed with groups like minor hockey; they’re keen to move forward.”
Some teams moved their games around and found practice ice in Parksville or elsewhere. The Alberni Valley Bulldogs have had to postpone or move a number of games, playing in Campbell River and Parksville, and switching home games with Cowichan Valley Capitals.
Thorpe said she debated the merit of shuffling ice time to make up time for user groups against putting on the annual Winter Wonderland event that takes place in the Coulson Rink every December. Winter Wonderland won out. “We’re expecting 9,000 people to attend over the course of December. We thought we have to stay the course.”
Winter Wonderland preparations will begin after the ice is made. Decorating for the month-long public skating event usually begins on Dec. 5.
The ice plant was shut down Nov. 6 and the Multiplex put under a safety order by Technical Safety BC at that time after a low-level ammonia leak was detected in the compressor room at the facility. The ice plant, which cost more than $300,000, was brand new and had only been installed in April 2019.
Technical Safety BC approved the repairs with conditions on Thursday, Nov. 21 after representatives from the manufacturer, Isotherm Inc., of Texas came to Port Alberni to inspect the unit along with contractors, TSBC and the city.
“Under the terms of the new certificate of inspection, the city must follow its plan to monitor the system to confirm the integrity of the repair and vessel (chiller),” TSBC noted in a prepared statement.
The city will accomplish this with regular ammonia and brine testing, combined with testing of the repaired welds.
Thorpe said she won’t feel a complete sense of relief until the ice is in. “I’ll be happy when I see Port Alberni enjoying their ice again.”
Firing up the ice refrigeration plant isn’t as easy as flipping a switch—it involves turning on valves, monitoring pressures and so much more—but Thorpe said she is not worried about what will happen once the chiller is operational. “I’m super confident. We have the safest ice plant on Vancouver Island. That’s why we bought the chiller we did,” she said.
“I have no doubt things will run very, very smoothly.”