A powerpoint landed in my inbox this week about an arena’s path to efficiency. Replacing their old ice resurfacing machine with the wrapped Zamboni you see above was one of the elements. But scratch below the skin, you’ll find a clever orchestra of innovations, grant applications, marketing concepts and community spirit that came together to make it happen, save money, lower greenhouse gas emissions — and stop wasting waste heat, too.

The Chilton Regional Arena in Port McNeill, BC is located at the North East corner of Vancouver Island. The town of 2,000 has been a basecamp for logging for close to 90 years, and logging still employs about a quarter of the folks in the town. The arena was constructed in 1976 with financial and volunteer assistance from its citizens as well as lumber company Western Forest Products and the Port McNeill Lions Club. By wrapping the arena’s new Zamboni 446 as a logging truck, the arena was able to pay homage to the logging industry — and the folks who helped to build the NHL-sized arena 40 years before. But I’m putting the cart before the horse, so to speak.

The Zamboni may never have happened if the arena hadn’t become a profit centre.

Profit Centre

Funding is always critical for a new ice resurfacing machine and arena reserves are seldom rich enough to foot the entire bill. Luckily, in 2015, the arena became a profit centre — for more than just ice time.

Next door to the arena, typical of many arenas in Canada, is a high school. School District 85 was looking for ways to reduce its costs. SD 85 applied for, and received, a $150,000 grant for district heating from the province’s Carbon Neutral Capital Program1. In a partnership between SD 85 and the municipality (the Regional District of Mount Waddington), the district heating project was realized.

In this Google Maps aerial view of Port McNeill, you can see the Chilton Arena (in green) and the North Island Secondary School (in white).

The district heating loop designed by Accent Refrigeration lets the arena sell waste heat from their refrigeration plant to the North Island Secondary School just 200 metres away. That means significantly lower electric heat costs for the School District between the months of September and April — when the ice is usually in.

Trenches dug to deliver waste heat
from the arena to the school

The district heating project benefitted the arena in other ways, too. Waste heat was now keeping the locker rooms and public areas warm. In addition, their existing dehumidifier was decommissioned — replaced by heat pumps. That reduces the facility’s energy cost for propane by $35K/year and lowers the arena’s greenhouse gas emissions significantly.

Next came the Zamboni project.

The Zamboni Project

By the end of 2016, the arena board had two years of the district heating project under their belts and saw how it was making the arena more efficient, and earning money, too. They’d already saved $70,000 in propane by using heat pumps instead of the dehumidifier, and they had revenues from the district heating loop of $21,600 by selling heat to the school.

When considering a new ice resurfacing machine, they decided to turn their backs on fossil fuel-power in favour of electric, which aligns with their mission statement. Their choice was between the Zamboni 650 Electric and the Zamboni 446 – similar cutting widths, but the 446 has a smaller snow tank. Truth told, the 446 was exactly what they needed in terms of capacity, height and capabilities, and it about $90K less than the ticket price of the 650E.

The problem was the Zamboni 446 wasn’t an electric machine.

If the arena would buy it, they would need to convert it.

And converting their Zamboni from propane to electric is exactly what they did.

Converting the Zam from Propane to Electric

According to arena manager Gerry Little, they bought the brand new 446 and gutted it.

We bought a new 446 propane unit and removed the engine and converted.

Gerry Little, Arena Manager, Chilton Regional Arena

Now armed with lithium ion batteries, their converted 446 is capable of doing six ice makes without recharging and takes just 20 minutes when it needs a recharge. Cost of the conversion: $32K.

Their old propane machine had cost $3,300/year — or $3.00 per flood, and another $2,500 per year to run – including costs of air quality monitoring, engine servicing and vehicle maintenance. Their converted Zamboni 446 eliminates those costs altogether, at a flood cost of just 25¢ each.

The ice resurfacing machine was just one element of the project. Getting it charged was another. A 9 kW solar array using 27×310 watt panels was installed to supply solar power to the electric resurfacer, and generate income by selling electricity back to the grid. However, before the solar array was put in place, the arena’s roof was replaced, at a cost of $150,000. The cost of the solar array was $32,000.

The 9 kW solar array at the Chilton Regional Arena – on top of the new, $150K roof.

According to Little, the solar array is another revenue generator.

The solar array can charge the Zamboni. However as it’s being run in the winter with limited sun, we offset the costs to operate and maintain the unit with the revenues generated from the solar array.

Gerry Little, Arena Manager, Chilton Regional Arena

The Final Touch: The Zamboni Wrap to Attract Sponsors and Pay Homage

The wrap was important, too.

Wrapping the Zamboni to make it look like a logging truck cost $10,000 – but it was another key element in the arena board’s vision to attracting industry donors to help realize the project. Smaller community groups and businesses ponied up $25K; the Lamare Group contributed $5,500 and both Western Forest Products and TimberWest Forest Ltd. contributed $5K. Community donations totalled $40,000 – and a grant from BC Energy and Mines contributed another $30K.

Image courtesy of Design Nanaimo. To see how the wrap was accomplished, click here.

At the end, the entire Zamboni project, including the machine itself, the conversion, solar panels, wrap and incidentals, cost the arena $182,000.

The efficiencies don’t stop there, either. Little tells me that last week, VFDs were installed on their two compressors, and he’s seeing consumption reductions already (they started putting their ice in on Thursday). He intends to write a case study — in a couple of months, he’ll share it with us.

I can’t wait to see it.

Little is excited at what they’ve achieved.

“We are now carbon neutral and solely rely on electric,” he says. “That includes everything from flooding our ice to mowing the grass. We went from 80t GHG to zero in 8 years.”

I know, it’s a long story, as most arena stories are. It takes time and, often, creative thinking to make an arena more energy efficient — and one size doesn’t always fit all. Well done to everyone involved. And keep up the great work.

>> I also wanted to give a shout out to the Province of British Columbia, a leader in sustainability in Canada. Approximately 30% of all Canadian LEED-designated Gold and Platinum building projects are located in that province. Great job, BC!