BARRE — Summer is just getting started and city officials are already sweating the ice-making capabilities of the 45-year-old refrigeration system at the BOR arena.
What started as a routine repair to a leaking feed line quickly blossomed into a much bigger — and far more expensive — problem, according to Jeff Bergeron, the city’s director of Buildings and Community Service.
It is one that will require replacing, or at least “re-tubing,” a key component of a refrigeration system that was installed before the BOR opened in 1974. It is called a “chiller barrel,” which mixes and chills calcium chloride and ammonia that is used to freeze the floor of the rink.
Replacing the component would push the price of the work Bergeron said needs to be done to $120,000.
“We have options, but we don’t have very good options,” he said.
A new chiller barrel would cost roughly $75,000 and that doesn’t include the $45,000 expense associated with removing the existing chiller barrel, installing the new one and replacing a corroded “trunk line.” The trunk line, Bergeron said, is leaking the ammonia and calcium chloride brine that it funnels from the chiller barrel out to the rink to facilitate the ice-making process.
According to Bergeron, one or more of the 18-foot-long tubes in the chiller barrel — there are a total of 184 of them — is leaking and must be replaced. That means incurring the expense of removing and opening up the barrel, which was completely re-tubed when a similar problem occurred more than 25 years ago.
Because all of the tubes were installed at the same time and some of them have started to leak, Bergeron is recommending replacing them all at an estimated cost of just over $47,000.
Coupled with the other work that needs to be done, Bergeron said that would push the cost of the project to roughly $92,000.
That money wasn’t included in the budget voters approved in March, but $168,000 in revenue from ice rentals was raising the stakes for making the repairs.
Still, City Manager Steve Mackenzie said he wanted time to weigh his options before asking the City Council to make a decision when it meets tonight.
“I’m hoping to pull a rabbit out of my hat,” he said.
Mackenzie would very much like to identify ways to cover the expense without blowing a $90,000 hole in the budget at the front end of a fiscal year that starts July 1.
With projections suggesting the city will end the current fiscal year nearly $225,000 in the red, Mackenzie wants to avoid putting the city in a position to post back-to-back deficits.
Replacing the entire refrigeration system isn’t viewed as a viable option. Bergeron said that could cost as much as $700,000. While the current system is old — the two compressors have been rebuilt four times since they were installed in 1974 — it would be functional if issues with the trunk line and chiller barrel are addressed.