Problems with new equipment persist
By Don Nelson
After a final effort to salvage its season, The Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink (WISR) board of directors decided last week that the much-anticipated promise of manufactured ice will have to wait until this fall.
The board’s hand was forced by continuing problems with the installation and operation of a new refrigeration system, board president Jill Calvert said this week.
The refrigeration equipment is intended to create a durable ice surface that will allow the rink to start its season earlier, and end it later, than is possible with the natural ice the rink has been operating with for years.
WISR had hoped to have the new refrigeration equipment in service by late last year, but its delivery was delayed several times by the supplier. The equipment was finally delivered to Winthrop earlier this month, but problems with broken parts and non-functioning elements of the system stymied efforts to even experiment with making ice.
“An ordered part would come, and then there would be another problem,” Calvert said. “We’d fix one problem and another would pop up.”
Calvert said the WISR board had decided that if the refrigeration equipment was not functional by the morning of Feb. 18, they would declare the season finished. For all practical purposes, it already was. The rink opened with a sheet of natural ice on Christmas Day 2015, but closed after a short run because warmer temperatures caused the ice to deteriorate.
A financial consequence was that an adult hockey tournament that drew a dozen teams had to be canceled, Calvert said. Two other tournaments had been canceled earlier.
Calvert estimated WISR’s loss of revenue that would have come from ticket sales, programs, concessions and ice time for tournaments at about $52,000. “We missed prime tourist time during the Christmas break, Martin Luther King weekend and Presidents Day,” she said.
Cancellation of the tournaments cost the valley an estimated $65,000 that visitors would have spent on lodging, food and retail purchases, Calvert said.
“I feel really bad for the community,” Calvert said. “Everything under our control went OK.”
Meanwhile, parts continued to arrive this week, Calvert said. Local resident Dave Fisher, a refrigeration expert, has been hired by the manufacturer to diagnose and fix problems with the equipment, she said.
WISR is not paying for the replacement parts, and the equipment’s supplier won’t be fully paid until everything works as it is supposed to, Calvert said.
“They have to deliver a functional chiller,” she said. “That is their responsibility. At least we are protected in that respect.”
The WISR board hasn’t wanted to talk about possible legal actions while delivery and installation were still up in the air. But at last week’s Winthrop Town Council meeting, Mayor Sue Langdalen indicated that the town will be looking into its legal options.
The rink is owned by the Town of Winthrop and operated under contract by the nonprofit WISR board. State grants and local contributions of labor and materials to build the rink, and to later add new facilities and the refrigeration equipment, come to about $1 million.
Calvert said it may be possible to test the refrigeration equipment yet this winter, but it’s more likely that WISR will have to wait until fall to ensure appropriate temperatures.
The new concrete surface of the rink was designed to accommodate summer usage as well. Calvert said that roller skating events are planned, and the Winthrop Kiwanis has pledged to devote some proceeds from its annual Bite of the Methow fundraiser to help WISR buy rental roller skates.
Calvert said she was disappointed by the problems that prevented the refrigeration equipment from operating this season, but she anticipates a brighter future.
“It just breaks my heart,” she said of the delays. “I don’t feel like it [the rink] is a success story yet. But in five years, it will be a massive success story.”