Willmar Civic Center ice for three? Refrigeration system with capacity for expansion is recommended


WILLMAR—One of the more pressing projects on Willmar’s to-do list has been the refrigeration system at the Willmar Civic Center. The Willmar City Council approved $2.6 million in the 2018 capital improvement project for a new system to create ice for the two arenas, but no firm decisions have been made on how to fund the project or what kind of system will be installed.

“What we need to do tonight is have a discussion on the path we are going to take on the refrigeration project,” Public Works Director Sean Christensen said at Monday’s work session of the City Council.

Christensen said three options have been considered, but only one meets the $2.6 million budget.

“Building an ice facility for exactly what we have now. It is simply replacing what is there with one refrigeration unit for both arenas,” Christensen said.

Instead, Christensen would like the council to consider increasing the budget by about $700,000, to approximately $3.3 million, which would allow a system to be installed that could freeze the ice for three sheets.

“In order to plan for the future, in order to have expansion possibility or availability for this facility,” Christensen said.

The expanded project Christensen recommends would include a larger ice equipment room, with the addition connected to the east side of the Blue Line Arena, leaving space for the Zamboni to remain indoors and a waste heat recovery system. This system would collect the waste heat produced by the ice-making equipment and could use it for heating needs, including pre-heating the water used to resurface the ice or space heating in the building.

There is a third option for the project, that would construct the larger equipment room for the Zamboni, but would leave the system at two sheets. The price is estimated around $2,697,900, but Christensen is not recommending that option.

While a few members of the council wondered if the city should wait to build a three-sheet system until it is known whether there will ever be a call for a third ice sheet, Christensen said the time is right to do the expanded project.

“Because right now this is as cheap as it is going to get,” Christensen said.

If the council decided to wait and then needed to expand the system later, or install an extra one, then they would probably have to pay for the engineering services all over again, along with construction costs. Those engineering services, along with a 15 percent contingency fund, amount to about $900,000 of the $3.3 million project.

How to fund the project is also still a question. While the budget calls for bonding, there has been talk about using city reserves or other funding mechanisms. Councilor Ron Christianson said the city could probably pay cash for the ice project if it used reserves.

“I would suggest doing that,” he said.

The council at its Jan. 16 council meeting will consider which option to pursue.

“I would like to see us build for the future. We have a history of being short-sighted and just taking care of what we need to right now,” Councilor Julie Asmus said.

The timeline for the expanded project would require use of the current refrigeration system for one more season, but Christensen and Community Education and Recreation Director Steve Brisendine believe that is doable.

“They are still functional systems,” and an engineer has said they are in good shape for their advanced age, Brisendine said.

Christensen said the timeline would have the contractor work this summer to construct the building to house the system and the Zamboni, and then build the actual refrigeration system during the winter.

West Central Tribune by Shelby Lindrud

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