Make the Most of Your Shutdown Time

Guest Blog Post by
Drew Watson
Recreational Project Sales – Atlantic Canada
CIMCO Refrigeration

As the recreational ice season comes to a close, now is the best time to consider your facility’s plant maintenance and capital planning needs.

As another recreational ice season- albeit not a conventional one- comes to a close, it is the best time to consider and assess the refrigeration plant maintenance and capital planning needs at your facility.

When I started off with sweeping change rooms at 17 years old, if you told me that 20 years later I would be designing and installing ice rink refrigeration systems, I wouldn’t have believed you. But having been there, done that in the recreational facility management space, the one thing I can vouch for is the importance of having a holistic facility management plan in place.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a significant reduction in recreational facility usage, so we know every hour of facility rental usage is critical, not to mention running our facilities as optimally as possible.

We often hear the terms “re-active” vs. “pro-active” maintenance.  Having been down both roads, I can tell from experience that those operators who invest in a “pro-active” maintenance plan will see a positive impact on their bottom line. Plus, this impact will not be limited only financially, but will also be reflected in regards to running a safer facility with reduced downtime.

Capital Planning – The best time to plan for future

Another item of consideration at shutdown is short-term and long-term capital planning.  Every facility should have a concrete 3 to 5-year capital plan, partnered with a long-term 20-year plan that takes into account every piece of infrastructure in the facility while also considering current and future facility usage. Identifying the areas of concern at the time of a shutdown will give you a picture of where to invest in the future.

Looking back, I realize that at the end of every ice season, I would find myself in the same situation- compiling a list of off-season facility maintenance tasks to be completed.  Once the list was completed and the facility was quiet, it was time for the ‘rink rats’ to go to work.  As time evolved and I moved up the corporate ladder, my focus shifted to large-scale capital planning and annual maintenance.

Before any work began, the most critical step was planning. Those who do this daily can echo my struggle.  The same scenario seems to always present itself, how do we do more, with fewer resources and less money.

My solution for this situation is: Plan more, use your resources to the best of your ability, and make use of your plan to identify alternate funding sources outside of the typical realm.  By doing so, you are more likely to get engagement from all stakeholders involved and ultimately achieve more desirable outcomes that please all parties.  When reacting to a catastrophic failure, you are often presented with limited options and the clock is ticking.  It’s costly and you’re stuck. With concrete planning, you give yourself the time to consider various options.

I also echo the fact that recreational facilities are not profit-driven, they are community service-driven, therefore budgets are always a concern.  However, if you take the effort to undertake planned maintenance/capital replacement at the facility, it will be a definite advantage for you in the long run. Do your homework and plan accordingly!  Items to consider when capital planning include:

  1. Initial investment costs
  2. Life Cycle maintenance costs
  3. Life Cycle operating costs
  4. Environmental Impact and Sustainability – carbon reduction measures
  5. Safety
  6. Regulatory changes and requirements
  7. Use of Natural vs. Synthetic refrigerants – due to environmental concerns/phase downs/outs/higher operating and maintenance costs.

Maintenance checklist

The refrigeration plant is the ‘heart’ of any recreational ice facility.  However, several items should be addressed upon the seasonal shutdown of any ice rink refrigeration plant. Here are some suggestions for you to consider:

  • Check and maintain your piping: Check the condition of your headers; look out for rusted gear clamps, leaks at welds and joints, loose clamps, and split piping. Make sure there is no corrosion, check on the structural integrity of the trenches. In the engine room, inspect the compressors, suction lines, and the entire piping system. Be sure to check the insulation and service and paint it if necessary.
  • Check your fluids: Identify any drop in fluid levels, look for changes in brine/glycol or secondary refrigerant samples, as changes in the makeup can indicate more serious problems. Make sure the expansion/balance tanks are checked regularly to ensure that the chiller/piping and floor stay filled.
  • Inspect all machinery components: Conduct a thorough visual inspection of all the machinery components and look for signs of wear and tear as well as corrosion. Clean and prime/paint any rusted surfaces, clean up and repaint the floor, air and clean out header trenches. Keep an eye on the condition of insulation in the plant room. Check your belts and pump couplings and perform any compressor servicing needed. Undertake condenser maintenance: clean the water tank and spray nozzles, service belts, and bearings. Run the pumps occasionally to keep the seals in good shape (but only run pumps that are full of fluid).
  • Safety Equipment Systems: Leave your refrigerant leak detector running and check it daily. Check your control systems and calibrate your sensors, check all pressure relief valve compliance tags, replace any that are out of date. Service and maintain your compressor room exhaust fan, ensure your exit doors are unobstructed and properly serviced, inspect your fire extinguishers, regularly flush your eyewash station, check the lighting in the compressor room and ensure all penetrations to the building are sealed.
  • General facility items: Identify and perform any necessary repairs to the building envelope, service your dehumidifiers, check your dampers for the arena exhaust fans. Clean your arena slab to prepare for making ice. Service the boards, repair any damaged tuflex, Pump out, inspect and clean your snowmelt pit. Make sure the coil is in good condition.