Pulling Double Duty

As budgets get tighter and available funds slow to a trickle, many parks departments are looking for ways to use existing space and facilities for more than one purpose.

The city of Barrington, Ill., took a basketball court and doubled it as an ice rink during the winter months after a city project threatened to swallow the parking lot where the rink was previously constructed.

“We looked at using a basketball court, but we were afraid of the residue,” says Stephen Nightingale, Superintendent of Parks & Facilities. City officials then discovered a conversion method that allowed them to turn the court into a temporary ice rink without disturbing the surface.

“We almost certainly would use this method to add more rinks to the area if we were looking to do so,” says Nightingale. “In a situation where we needed a location, we would opt to use something already in existence.” Residents have had positive reactions to the change. “They absolutely loved it,” says Nightingale. “It’s a remote, reserved area, and it’s much nicer for them to come to. Before, it was in an urban environment. Now we have the versatility to change the location as needed.”

Over 700 people use the rink each season--December through February--weather permitting.

Selecting A Site

The first and most important variable to consider when choosing a location for an ice rink is its accessibility to a water source. According to Jim Stoller, president of sales and marketing for NiceRink, proximity to a water source is the difference between an easy flooding and surfacing job, or a difficult one. The next aspect to consider is the pitch or levelness of the site, which will determine how many gallons of water are needed to fill the rink. Stoller says a pitch of 6 inches or less is best, as it takes less effort to install the side boards, uses less water, and requires less time to get the base-ice going. The last factor is the overall size of the rink, which is determined by the amount of space available, the budget and the desired appearance.

It also depends on who will be using the rink--if it is just for children, they don’t need a large space for it to feel “huge.” For experienced skaters, a 30-foot span may not be large enough to keep it entertaining, Stoller warns.

Rink Installation

A rink can be put onto any flat surface, and initial installation takes less than a day.

First, the liner should be laid out and filled with water. It will need to be topped off to smooth out the surface. Any holes from skates from the previous year also should be repaired at this time.

Although there are panels that hold a plastic liner, some creativity can stretch your dollars further. “We use a fence and braced it ourselves,” Nightingale says. “There are brackets that go into the ground, and we enforced it with 2 x 4’s between old concrete slabs."

“For a couple of thousand dollars of an investment, we have something that is working for us,” says Nightingale. “The siding is fairly permanent, and the liner should last about two to three years.”

Repair And Maintenance

Exactly how do you make ice? And what happens if the surface is not perfect? The folks in Barrington use a snowblower to keep the snow off the rink, and then top off the ice with a sprayer. This is just one way to maintain ice. Methods include:

· Flooding

· Spray and squeegee

· Spray-spray-spray-spray

· Resurfacer

· Zamboni

Flood--This is good to use if water hasn’t been frozen yet and it snows. “The best way to overcome the mess is to totally saturate the snow to the point where it is completely slush and no white, dry snow is visible. This will freeze and be somewhat bumpy, at which time you’ll have to use one of the other methods to smooth it out. Do not use the flood method on smooth ice, you’ll wreck it,” says Stoller.

Spray and squeegee--This is another method by which you spray water onto the ice surface and squeegee it out to the spots that need the most attention. This does not work on spots that have already started to freeze, as it will turn into frozen slush, which will need further attention once it’s completely frozen.

Spray-Spray-Spray-Spray--This follows the idea that “wet ice is done ice,” says Stoller. Start spraying a spot on the rink until it’s glossy and move on. Put the layers of water on as thinly as possible to get a glass-like finish and also to prevent cracking or “lifting.” If thin layers are applied, it will freeze solid with no expansion to give a glass-like finish that defines ice skating.

Resurfacer--This is the most popular and easiest method to use. It allows you to lay down a very thin, fast-freezing layer of deoxygenated water that will become the skating surface. This is the closest thing to the surface in indoor rinks. Indoor ice is kept at a constant 21 to 24 degrees F. Outdoor ice rinks can be as cold as the outdoor temperature (15, 10, 5 degrees F, etc.). “Hard, deoxygenated ice is good, fast ice, and also will not get chewed up as much, requiring less maintenance time and more skating time,” says Stoller.

Zamboni--This driver-operated machine has a blade that shaves a thin layer from the surface of the ice. After a horizontal screw gathers the shavings, a vertical screw propels them into the snow tank. Water is fed from a wash-water tank to the conditioner, which rinses the ice. Dirty water is collected in front of a squeegee and is vacuumed, filtered, and returned to the tank. Clean water from the ice-making tank is spread on the ice by a towel behind the conditioner. This method will do the work for you, but can be a hefty financial investment if you’re considering a temporary ice rink.

Depending On Mother Nature

A rink can be installed after the temperature has been below freezing for three or four days. As long as it stays cold, the ice thickens, and is able to survive a 40-degree warm spell.

“The only problem is that it is all dependent on the weather. There are ways to keep the sun off it by installing shades or putting the rink near trees,” says Nightingale.

One way to avoid melting ice is to remove any type of debris, including leaves, sticks and equipment, such as hockey nets, pucks and shovels; all of these objects can absorb heat and leave holes in the ice.

Although temporary rinks have to rely on unstable weather, they do have at least one maintenance perk--traditional ice rinks require spraying water on a reflective surface, and any time the weather gets too warm, they are forced to start over. In the temporary rink it all turns to water and freezes again, requiring little to no labor.Coils are another option to keep it cool but can be a costly investment.

There is no date or time stamp on when to close up for the season--it’s simply when the weather no longer supports the ice structure. The temporary structure can be used for upcoming seasons, creating more recreational versatility while keeping costs down. A temporary facility can be a win-win.

Heather Reichle is a freelance writer living in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at HReichle28@yahoo.com