Sports center to get chilled

Posted: Friday, February 27, 2004

Facing the chilling prospect of having its ice refrigeration control system fail in the near future, the Soldotna City Council Wednesday voted to go forward with a plan to spend approximately $150,000 on a replacement system.

The council voted 4-2 to install a less sophisticated --but easier to maintain -- "flooded chiller barrel" design to replace the direct expansion chiller system currently used at the Soldotna Sports Center. The fix was one of three options the council debated at Wednes-day's meeting. City Manager Tom Boedeker told the council it could, in fact, do nothing to alleviate the problems with the current system, but that would likely mean paying large amounts of overtime pay to the only city employee qualified to run the system.

"You can operate the (current) system manually, but you basically have to have someone in there 24 hours a day," Boedeker said.

With the prospect of having an unreliable system that needs constant upkeep, Boedeker outlined two additional options. One, he said, be to replace the computerized control system for between $30,000 and $50,000. This would fix the problem with having an unreliable operating system, but would likely become obsolete relatively soon.

The second option Boedeker outlined would be to replace the direct expansion system with the flooded chiller system. This, he said, would make operation of the system much easier and would likely last longer --but would also cost the city more money.

To further explain the options, Joel Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn. refrigeration specialist who has worked on rinks all across the state, was brought in to speak before the council. Anderson said the problem with the highly-computerized expansion system is that when things go wrong, they go wrong quickly and problems can be hard to fix.

"If there's a problem, it's a big problem," Anderson told the council.

As for the flooded chiller barrel system, Anderson said it's easier to use and just as efficient as the current refrigeration design.

"If there were any control issues, they'd be very simple," he said.

However, installing the flooded chiller barrel would mean the city would have to both buy the new system, install it, and build a small addition to the side of the Sports Center.

"Of course, that costs more," Anderson said.

With the options outlined, council members weighed in on their preferences for a possible fix.

On the side of replacing the computer system for the current system were council members Sharon Moock and Lisa Parker. Parker said she would be leery of spending more than a hundred thousand dollars on a capital project to improve the Sports Center when the strength of the area's economy is still very much in doubt.

"Not knowing which way we're going to go funding-wise, I'm hesitant to go with the cream-of-the-crop," Parker said.

Parker said she'd be more comfortable fixing the current computer and spending less taxpayer money.

"I would be a little more conservative," she said.

Moock also spoke on behalf of the less-expensive option. In recent weeks Moock has voiced the opinion that the city needs to take a cautious approach when it comes to spending money on the Sports Center, though she said Wednesday she is certainly not out to see the facility shut down.

"I'm not advocating that we take the ice out of the Soldotna Sports Center," Moock said.

Moock said she, like Parker, has reservations about the flooded chiller barrel system and its associated costs.

"What I am also not advocating, and am still not advocating spending $150 thousand to commit to this other system," she said.

Moock and Parker proved to be in the minority Wednesday, however. Council Member Jim Stogsdill said that he would like to see the flooded chiller barrel system replace the current system because he believes it will bring long-term stability to the Sports Center's refrigeration situation.

"I would rather have it simple for 30 years than complex for another ten," Stogsdill said.

Council Member Jane Stein said she believes that although the city loses money on its bottom line at the Sports Center, the benefit the city gets from Sports Center-related functions is worth spending money for the long-term fix.

"The point is, it is a real asset to our community," Stein said.

Stein made a motion to allow Boedeker to begin the process of ordering the new system, which passed 4-2, with council members Scott McLane and Audrey Porter joining Stogsdill and Stein in favor.

In other action Wednesday, the council:

n Approved a change in its meeting time from 7:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The council will continue to meet every second Wednesday.

n Approved a resolution supporting a "yes" vote on Proposition 1, the upcoming boroughwide election that seeks to enable the Borough Assembly to raise the borough property tax rate to pay for cocurricular activities in public schools.

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