11-29-19 ham exterior back.jpg

Ham Arena manager Dave "Woody' Woodbury (left) and Bob Murphy, treasurer of the West Main Recreation Corp. that runs the facility, examine the cooling tower located at the back of the Ham last December. (TOM EASTMAN PHOTO)

CONWAY — The ice is returning to the Ham Arena on West Main Street in a matter of weeks after a long shutdown, partly caused by the pandemic closure to all sports facilities last spring.

Dave Woodbury, rink manager, said this week that starting Wednesday, crews would be on hand to replace the chiller that dates back to the arena’s opening in 1998 and that if all goes according to plan, the ice should be down in a matter four to five weeks, opening the way for all kinds of play – all with new restrictions and guidelines due to CDC COVID-19 protocol governing safe social distancing and other safeguards.

Normally, the arena shuts down in late April and re-opens in late June or early July and is home to public skating, stick and puck practice, figure skating and numerous hockey leagues and camps.

But with the COVID-19 shutdown last spring, the non-profit arena was both able to get grants as well as to use the time to spruce up the arena, Woodbury said.

“We received a PPP (payroll protection program) loan along with an SBA (Small Business Administration) loan and a Main Street grant so although we lost a lot of revenue by not being able to hold our Presidents Cup and Old Man of the Mountains tourniaments last April and then the shutdown, that has helped,” said Woodbury on a tour of the facility this week.

The exciting news, he said, involves the new chiller and its slated arrival from Canada, where it was manufactured.

“Just for scale, the barrel itself is about 14 feet long and about 5 and half feet in circumference. It will take three or four days to get here and then the fun begins, well it already began. We are flushing the floor of bad brine that will be replaced, cutting the old pipes and chiller out and getting ready to place in the new chiller. Add four or so more days for installation and another week to 10 days for get the floor cold and make ice. In short we should be back on the ice sometime in the first week or two of October,” said Woodbury.

He described the chiller by explaining how ice arenas work:

In an ice arena, ammonia refrigerant is in a closed loop which essentially means it is contained within the system. In most typical refrigeration systems, the cold ammonia is circulated or flooded around a series of tubes which contains a brine solution (calcium chloride and water). This is inside a vessel known as the “chiller”.

This cold brine is circulated to the rink floors and is what allows the floor to be cooled. As the ammonia cools the brine, it takes on heat and this heated ammonia is compressed and circulated through piping to an evaporative condenser. In the condenser, cold water is circulated over the piping which condenses the ammonia into liquid form which is then circulated back to the chiller and the process starts over again. The ammonia does not enter in to the rinks or other areas of the facility and is contained within vessels or piping in the refrigeration plant.

He said the improvements are part of a capital campaign to upgrade the arena funded in part by a $250,000 matching grant from an anonymous donor.

He said that campaign has raised $175,000 of that matching grant to date, with “any donations that do come in up to $75,000 it will be matched, doubling the donation,” Woodbury said.

“When all is said and done, the system should be in very good shape. Within the past four years, we replaced the condenser tower, got a new dehumidifying system and replaced one of our two electric motors that run the compressors,” said Woodbury.

He outlined the new protocols that will be in effect under the “new normal” of operations during the pandemic for skaters, players, guests and spectators. Here’s a list of what you can expect upon entering the Ham Arena.

Arrows have been placed along the floor, showing proper pedestrian flow upon entering the building under the new protocols.

He described the chiller by explaining how ice arenas work:

In an ice arena, ammonia refrigerant is in a closed loop which essentially means it is contained within the system. In most typical refrigeration systems the cold ammonia is circulated or flooded around a series of tubes which contains a brine solution (calcium chloride and water). This is inside a vessel known as the “Chiller”.

This cold brine is circulated to the rink floors and is what allows the floor to be cooled. As the ammonia cools the brine it takes on heat and this heated ammonia is compressed and circulated through piping to an evaporative condenser. In the condenser, cold water is circulated over the piping which condenses the ammonia into liquid form which is then circulated back to the chiller and the process starts over again. The ammonia does not enter in to the rinks or other areas of the facility and is contained within vessels or piping in the refrigeration plant.

He said the improvements are part of a capital campaign to upgrade the arena funded in part by a $250,000 matching grant from an anonymous donor.

He said that campaign has raised $175,000 of that matching grant to date, with “any donations that do come in up to $75,000 it will be matched, doubling the donation,” Woodbury said.

“When all is said and done the system should be in very good shape. Within the past four years we replaced the condenser tower, got a new dehumidifying system and replaced one of our two electric motors that run the compressors,” said Woodbury.

He outlined the new protocols that will be in effect under the “new normal” of operations during the pandemic for skaters, players, guests, and spectators. Here’s a list of what you can expect upon entering the Ham Arena.

Arrows have been placed along the floor, showing proper pedestrian flow upon entering the building under the new protocols.

New sanitation practices will be in effect, along with other protocols, all of which are listed at the website, hamarena.com.

The following new pandemic protocols will be in effect at the Ham in keeping with state and Center for Disease Control guidelines:

• Patrons must enter at the main entrance

• A signed waiver is required at the main entrance. The arena management prefers visitors print one out and sign it prior to arrival, avaialable online at hamarena.com/new-normal . They are also available at the front desk as patrons enter.

• Masks are required to enter the building, they should remain on until visitors get to the bench.

• Doors will be locked until 15 minutes prior to ice time.

• A staff member will take everyone’s temperature (it must be 100.3 or less).

• Patrons will also be asked the following questions about possible COVID-19 symptoms and whether in the past 14 days, they have been in close physical contact (6 feet or closer for at least 15 minutes) with a person who is known to have laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 or with anyone who has any symptoms consistent with COVID-19?

Patrons are asked to come into the building dressed to skate, dressing at home or in the parking lot in their car.

Other protocol includes:

• Locker rooms will be open but masks are required in the locker rooms at all times.

• Locker room doors will remain open at all times.

• Locker room bathrooms are open but showers are closed.

• Seating in lobby and behind home and away benches are available to put on skates.

• Underage siblings are allowed but must stay with parent at all times.

• When an ice session is over patrons have 10 minutes to vacate the building, using the exit at the rear of the building.

• Appointments are necessary for Pro Shop and skate sharpenings.

• Snack shop will remain closed for now but the arena does have vending machines for drinks only.

• Please follow all arrows and signs.

For further information, go to hamarena.com or clal (603) 447-5886.

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