Council approves $3.7M Larson Ice Center bid

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Split council decision questions consultants’ differing recommendations

BROOKINGS – The Brookings City Council approved a bid by McKinstry Firm from Roseville, Minnesota, for almost $3.7 million in repairs to Larson Ice Center during Tuesday’s meeting. The vote was split 5-2.

Dan Brettschneider, director of Brookings Parks, Recreation & Forestry, outlined the reasons for the repairs. 

McKinstry will be replacing both concrete rink floors, sub floor heating system, installing a water mitigation system and replacing the ice plant at Larson. 

A design-build RFP was followed, and three firms submitted proposals. Staff recommended McKinstry Firm’s bid of $3,690,278 be approved to install an ammonia indirect ice plant.

Brettschneider said the current R-22 plant will be outdated soon.

“It’s currently working, but we’ve had multiple problems in the recent past and have incurred multiple expenses in repairing that system,” Brettschneider said.

He said the subfloor heating system is not working as it should, and the heat exchanger on that unit has failed. In both rinks, the steel mains and headers are leaking and staff has documented leaks in the steel piping underneath the floors. All of those have caused the concrete slab of the rink to heave multiple inches from frost building up underneath, causing poor playing conditions.

Staff selected McKinstry based on the overall quality of its proposal and professional abilities; the Design-Build Procurement procedures make McKinstry the best value selection; and its capacity to meet the “tight time frame schedule,” which is from April 15 to Aug. 30 because the facility needs to be operational by Sept. 1, Brettschneider stressed.

Brettschneider said there were pros and cons with each type of system, but gave three reasons why staff was recommending the ammonia indirect system:

• Leak detection is more easily accomplished in a glycol piping system, “which is superior to other systems we have looked at in the past,” he said.

• Ammonia systems are the most widely utilized replacement option for ice arenas throughout the U.S. The availability, proximity and experience of installation and repair technicians for indirect ammonia systems far exceeds that of other options;

• Consultations with the Brookings Fire Department and primary code officials indicated no reservations with the use of an ammonia refrigeration skid.

Councilor Dan Hansen pointed out what was presented in November was different.

“It was pretty clear in that plan as you read that the C02 system was far more advantageous long-term. In essence, what we’re being presented with in this report is the ammonia system is better, so we hired a consultant that told us one thing and now we have a recommendation that says another, so, I guess, how do we know which one is correct?” he asked.

At that time, staff was under the impression that the C02 system would offer “minimal disruption,” Brettschneider said. Also, initial cost of the ammonia system is cheaper than C02, but over the 30-year expected lifetime of both systems, the costs are “pretty equal,” Brettschneider said.

“(The report) is giving us a very different picture,” Hansen said, noting the upfront cost of C02 is more, gas charge is relatively the same, efficiency is much greater with the C02 system, cost of maintenance scores better with the C02, and total cost over 30-plus years scores better with the C02. He recalled the question was raised before and they were assured that “the much wiser investment was C02 and not ammonia.”

City Manager Paul Briseno said he asked Brettschneider to contact the previous consultant and found out they didn’t take into consideration how much warmer a climate we have compared to other climates where they’ve implemented C02 systems and that can impact the cost. You see more C02 systems further north, he added.

“It becomes more efficient using an ammonia-based system here in Brookings,” Briseno said. 

He opened the floor to Ed Zepeda with McKinstry.

“When we looked at this project, we looked at it from a total cost of ownership standpoint,” Zepeda said.

“Just from a safety perspective, an indirect system allows you to use significantly less refrigerant in the operation,” he said, adding it takes 10,000 pounds of C02 to run two ice rinks versus 500-600 pounds of ammonia.

“The other safety component that comes to it is when you’re running 10,000 pounds of C02, you’re actually running it through the entire facility, so if you did have a catastrophic failure, then most of that refrigerant is going to be contained in the spectator areas, whereas in an indirect ammonia system, you’re confining all the refrigerant to the mechanical room,” Zepeda said.

That contributes to the “safety of the community, the athletes, the spectators” and others in the building, he added.

“There’s safety concerns associated with having ammonia, too,” Hansen said. “What I’m seeing here is we have two different experts saying two different things. The last thing I want to do is spend $4 million and find out in 15 years that we made the wrong decision.”

He wants to get a third opinion or run another study.

“In this case, I don’t feel good about moving forward if we have two experts saying two different things,” Hansen said.

Briseno reminded the council that time was of the essence to beat the time frame. 

The initial consultant did say that ammonia is a good system for ice arenas, Brettschneider said, adding that ammonia will give a better ice surface during the summer months.

Councilor Nick Wendell expressed concern that the city was “shifting course on such a dramatic project” in only a few months. While recognizing that time was of the essence, he wanted to know the city’s ability to get another informed opinion and still make the August deadline.

Staff would have to find a firm that knows the equipment, Briseno said.

“Probably looking weeks to months out, then have that come back to city council,” he said.

Brettschneider said he’s talked to the expert firms, like McKinstry and others.

“I’m 110 percent confident this ammonia-based system, this indirect system, is the route to go for the city of Brookings and the Larson City Center for the next 20 to 30 years,” Brettschneider said.

Councilor Ope Niemeyer said he’s worked with Windchill in Sioux Falls, which is ammonia-based. 

“If they’re going to use it for that huge of a refrigerated storage complex, I guess I’m okay with it,” he said, then asked Zepeda how many his firm has done and how many were ammonia-based.

“Seven to 10 facilities over the course of our lifetime … all of them have been ammonia,” Zepeda said, adding there are only two C02 ice rinks in Alaska and the rest are in Canada. One C02 plant was built in Minnesota in the last couple of years. 

“C02 is not even utilized in the National Hockey League ice arenas at this point,” Zepeda said.

Niemeyer asked how the system will be maintained, and Brettschneider said McKinstry will not leave the project. They will train the staff and come back as needed.

“They’ve guaranteed us that they’ll be supporting us through this process,” Brettschneider said.

Councilor Holly Tilton Byrne asked about the lifecycle of both systems. Brettschneider said the ammonia system was 30 years and the C02 system was similar.

The resolution passed on a 5-2 vote. Voting no were Hansen and Wendell. Voting yes were Mayor Keith Corbett and Councilors Mary Kidwiler, Patty Bacon, Niemeyer and Tilton Byrne.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]

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