Safety inspections identify multiple 'deficiencies' in ammonia plant for outdoor B.C. ice rink

Safety inspections have identified numerous "deficiencies" in the 23-year-old ammonia plant used to create ice for an outdoor skating rink in downtown Prince George, B.C.

Prince George city staff question whether money required to repair equipment could be better spent elsewhere

A lone skater on the Canada Games Plaza ice rink in downtown Prince George. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Safety inspections have identified numerous "deficiencies" in the 23-year-old ammonia plant used to create ice for an outdoor skating rink in downtown Prince George, B.C.

The use of ammonia has received increased scrutiny following a leak that killed three men at an ice arena in Fernie, B.C. in October 2017.

Though widely used, the gas poses a safety risk if not properly managed or if equipment falls into disrepair.

An ammonia leak at an ice rink in Fernie, B.C., killed three people in October 2017. (Lauren Krugel/The Canadian Press)

According to a staff report prepared for Prince George city council, the ammonia plant used for the outdoor Canada Games Plaza skating rink was built in 1994 as part of the construction of the Prince George Civic Centre and surrounding space.

In July 2017, the plant was identified as being near the end of its life.

After the Fernie tragedy, Technical Safety B.C., which oversees ice rink safety in the province, inspected the plant on Nov. 22 and identified a number of "deficiencies".

The city spent $17,600 on a contractor to address them, but a follow-up inspection on Jan. 3 found a number of problems remained. 

A WorkSafeBC inspection the same day generated six compliance orders to be followed in order for the plant to continue operation.

Money may be better spent elsewhere: staff report

Hundreds of people watched free performances at the special Heat Wave Music Festival in Prince George's Canada Games Plaza in July 2017. City staff have suggested that if the ammonia plant used to make ice in the winter isn't replaced, the money could be spent on creating a year-round event space in the plaza. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

The cost of repairs to keep the plant operating for the rest of the season is estimated at $58,900 and the cost of replacing it altogether is budgeted at approximately $550,000.

In the report to council, Prince George community services general manager Rob Whitwham questions whether the cost is worth it.

He notes that city staff have observed an average of five people a day using the rink this winter and on many days, "there is no usage."

Ammonia refrigeration systems are used in about 65 per cent of all Canadian rinks. (Adrian Cheung/CBC)

"The question is whether the capital funding for a new ice plant would be better spent on improvements to the Canada Games Plaza that would enhance the ability to put on events in that space year round," the report concludes.

In 2015, the city hosted the Canada Winter Games and the plaza was used as an outdoor concert space. Since then, the city has hosted a number of new outdoor events in the space, including a free concert series in July 2017.

The report says that by not building a new ice plant, it would be possible to "repurpose the plaza into a permanent year-round outdoor event space."

Council will discuss the recommendations at its regular meeting Jan. 22. 


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About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

@akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is a radio producer and digital journalist in northern British Columbia, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George. Email: andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca | Twitter: @akurjata | Secure PGP: http://www.akurjata.ca