There’s a good reason why you don’t see many outdoor ice rinks anymore. Skateable and smooth ice is extremely difficult to maintain when left vulnerable to the winter elements. The past few winters have also been very mild, leaving only a handful of weeks where the temperatures were low enough for the ice to stay consistently solid. Even if the temperatures remain far below freezing, there are the elements of snow, the wind, and general slush to worry about at a regular outdoor rink. These were the problems with Valparaiso’s original outdoor rink at Tower Park.
“Our rink in Tower Park was there for many years, but the challenge with that rink was working with the weather each year,” said John Seibert, Valpo Parks Director of Parks and Recreation. “The seasonal temperatures to make ice became less and less over the years. We’d really only have two weeks of the season to make natural ice and keep it skateable. We needed an environment where we could control the temperatures for winter sports and we knew a refrigerated rink was something we were going to need to do.”
An immediate ideal location for a new rink was near Valparaiso’s Central Park Plaza. This downtown location was surrounded by many of Valparaiso’s frequented attractions like restaurants, snack shops, and brewpubs. Central Park Plaza received heavy traffic during the warm months but lacked that during winter. The next step was to create a venue that could be converted each season.
“Our pitch was for the William E. Urschel Pavilion, which would have a roof over it to protect the site year around from rain and the sun. So, we put a package together that we could make happen. We looked at examples from other communities around the country and we put a team together that could make it all work,” Seibert said.
After the pitch was approved, the team immediately went to work to construct the multipurpose and multiseasonal facility. Valpo Parks began work with Everything Ice, a contractor who has assembled outdoor rinks all over the country. The first step was to lay 9 miles of piping under the 120 x 80-foot concrete slab to run glycol to cool the rink in the winter months. A chiller located in the Indiana Beverage Activity Center circulated the cooled glycol throughout the rink to chill the slab.
“We turn it on two or three days before we want to make some ice,” said Dan McGuire, Valpo Parks Director of Special Projects & Event Operations. “The rest of the process is very similar to what we did at Tower Park. We run a fire hose and lay about a half an inch of ice as a base layer. This year we used a white mesh which gave us the bright white color of the ice. Then we put maybe another inch on top of that ice. That layer has our logo and all the lines we use for hockey.”
The final result is a state of the art outdoor rink that requires a great deal of attention to maintenance. Despite the roof that covers the rink to protect the ice from rain, snow, and sunlight, external temperatures are still a factor for the ice. The rink required a vigilant and skilled crew to keep the ice smooth for skaters.
“Our crew and equipment is key to keeping the ice in perfect shape. Our ice resurfacer is our go-to tool to keep the ice smooth. We have about three people that work during a shift to run that machine every couple of hours, depending on the size of the skating group. We use an ice edger as well. We use it to go around the end boards and chip off the ice that’s built there. The Zamboni can’t get into the tight corners of the dasher boards,” said McGuire
The ice crew has frequently gone above and beyond to ensure the ice will be ready for their skaters. For Thanksgiving weekend the rink was faced with 70-degree weather. The threshold for skateable ice at this outdoor rink is 60 degrees. To combat the warm temperatures, the crew worked midnights to keep the ice in shape that weekend. With this year's record high temperatures, the rink has thus far only missed 3 days out of the season due to inclement weather.
“It's the ice staff busting their butts to keep this place up and running. It's absolutely outstanding how dedicated and hardworking they all are. Along with the maintenance staff, there’s Steve Garland, Dan Johnson, Andy Valasek, and many more. We see about 1,000 skaters a day at the rink. We have 30 total operational staff and we go about 12 people per shift. So, we all work hard to keep this going for our skaters,” said Seibert.
The winter season is just beginning and there are many events throughout the week to participate in at the Valparaiso Ice Rink.
- For children starting the winter break, the rink will be open December 21st - January 3rd for early open skate 10AM - 10PM.
- Open Hockey is available Sundays - Wednesdays 8pm - 10pm
- Junior Hockey lessons are available for 5 - 12-year-olds.
- The rink will also be open Fridays at 12pm for an adult skate.
- Friday nights feature “Rock’n Skate,” where there is a DJ and special lighting.
- Open skates are available 6:30pm-10:00pm
Click here to see the full event calendar at the rink!