Airfield ice skating complex reopens after narrowly avoiding storm disaster

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The airfield ice skating complex has been in operation since 1995. Winter storm Uri almost caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. (Courtesy of the airfield ice skating complex)

The airfield ice skating complex in northwest Houston was not spared from winter storm Uri, but a combination of fast-paced action, luck and camaraderie within the rink community of Houston prevented what officials said could have been a much more serious setback.

Electricity was cut for the rink at around the same time as for many Houston residents affected by Uri – around 2 a.m. on February 15 – and remained off for about 38 hours, the TC general manager said. Lewis. Power outages for ice rinks can be disastrous under normal circumstances, he said. Houston rinks depend on compressors year round to keep the ice frozen. When the power goes out for an extended period of time, the ice patches melt, potentially causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

“We can literally be a pool at this point,” Lewis said.

However, because the outside temperatures were so cold during the power outage, the ice remained intact, Lewis said. But there was another problem: a frozen pipe in the facility’s sprinkler system burst and the leak flooded the compressor room, causing electrical and engine damage to each of the two airfield compressors.

A local electrician made an emergency visit to fix the electrical issues, but both motors had to be removed and sent for repair, a process that would take weeks, Lewis said. In the meantime, the weather was starting to heat up.

As a potential disaster nears, Lewis said advice from an HVAC and tech company and a stroke of ‘stupid luck’ helped keep the rink from losing its ice and having to close. for a much more intensive repair process. A worker from Johnson Controls, which supplies the motors for the airfield compressor, also performed repairs on compressors at the Sugar Land Ice and Sports Center.

Coincidentally, the Sugar Land rink recently removed an engine from one of its machines, and the repair technician suggested that Lewis call the Sugar Land rink to see if he could use it temporarily during the repair. of its engines. The Sugar Land rink agreed and Johnson Controls went to Sugar Land, took the 600 pound compressor apart and returned the engine to the airfield. They managed to get a compressor back on, Lewis said.

“You literally never, ever have an extra engine seated,” Lewis said. “They don’t grow on trees. You don’t go to Home Depot. They’re specially built. To me, it’s remarkable that they loaned it to us, and it’s just stupid luck that they have one. “

While some ice was lost, enough was saved the airfield – which maintains a customer base of over 1,000, including traveling and internal hockey leagues, figure skaters and free skaters – was able to reopen and operate normally from 3 p.m. February 22, Lewis said.

“Our customers show up at 5 am and leave at midnight,” he said. “There are a lot of people who would have been affected. “

Without the engine, Lewis said there was no doubt the ice would have melted and repairs could have cost as much as $ 500,000 and taken three months. In addition to fixing the burst pipe and motors, the repair process would have consisted of leveling the sand under the ice, slowly rebuilding the ice and repainting all the red and blue lines on the rink, he said. declared.

He said he was not sure what the costs would have ended up being for labor and engine repairs, but said they would most likely be in the tens of thousands. dollars instead.

The second airfield compressor, which normally serves as a back-up in the event of the first breaking down, will remain offline for another two weeks or so while the engine is repaired. Until then, Lewis said he would still feel some stress. But he said he felt overall lucky to have avoided a much worse situation and was grateful for the help he received along the way.

“It was a good job from good partners, our staff and our friends in the rink community,” he said. “It kind of fell into place, and we’re grateful.”

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