When you go to a hockey game, or a skating rink, and the Zamboni comes out to resurface the ice, what you are witnessing is just the final step in what can sometimes be a long and arduous process. In fact, getting the ice ready for a new season of skating and hockey can take up to a week -- or more. To learn more about the process, the Citizen visited the Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink in Byram last Friday and talked with rink manager Richard Ernye, who was in the midst of preparing the rink for the 2010-11 season. Ernye talked about the ice-building and ice maintenance process and provided some insight into the current state of the rink as it enters its 40th season.
Richard, thanks for the time. I have to say it's interesting to see the ice still in the preparation process. How do you go about getting it ready for the season?
Thanks for the interest. First, at the end of every season, we melt the ice down to the concrete floor. The paint is degradable and just turns into a powder that we vacuum up. At the start of the next season, we begin by putting down a layer of ice between a quarter-inch to a third of an inch as a base. Then, we put three coats of pure-white paint on the ice to give it its color. We seal the paint in with water using pump sprays and watering buckets. Then we measure out the dimensions of the rink and figure out where we put the lines and face-off circles. We then lay down templates and paint everything in. Like with the white paint ,we spend the next stage of the process sealing the lines in with water, which is what we're doing today. Later this afternoon or possibly tomorrow, when we determine that everything is sealed in nicely, we'll take the Zamboni out and begin building up the ice the rest of the way.
How many more layers do you put on and how long does that take?
We put an extra inch-and-a-half to two inches of ice down and it'll probably take us the rest of the week because the layers aren't very thick. The idea is to have it done in time for Labor Day Weekend because we plan on being open for travel hockey teams on Saturday, the fourth.
How hard is it to maintain its appearance as the season progresses?
It can be hard because when people skate on it, the ice begins to get cloudy. So, if we have something big coming up, like a high school hockey game, we'll do a deeper cut than normal to make it look really nice. We'll also cut it down further after games because these guys are really hard on their edges and ruts can develop.
Now my understanding is you try to make an event of the ice painting by letting kids onto the ice to help. How does that work?
We think that this is a pretty special and cool procedure so whenever we have our staff meeting I put it out there for people to come watch and if they have kids they can help. Obviously, the finer aspects of the painting we take care of but, for example, this time we had a couple of kids who we gave some blue paint and had them paint the creases. It's a chore for us sometimes but it's fun for them.
Talk a bit about the current state of the rink.
We're entering our 40th season so we're looking to do some work on things. The obvious concern is the slab underneath the ice. We wash it down every year really well to help maintain it and I think that we'll have the slab redone in the very near future. In terms of other things, the compressors and all of the equipment that keeps the ice cool is still working but again it's 40-years-old so we're just hoping it holds up till we can replace it. We'll be OK if it springs a leak in March but if it springs a leak in December we'll be in trouble. Right now we're just trying to be proactive and head off any potential problems before they start.
What else would you like to see done?
Aside from the slab, the biggest thing for me is to have some team showers. It's kind of embarrassing as a member of the Parks and Rec. Department that if a team comes here to play they have to ride home in sweat. Another thing is this building has Plexiglas windows so its not very tight and it's easy for heat to get in but I think the windows are going to get redone when the exterior roof gets done sometime later this fall. Until then, and given that we are actually opening a bit early this year, it'll be hard to keep the ice in good shape.
Would you look to expand at all because I know the surface area of the ice itself is smaller than most?
Well, when the slab eventually gets done we will expand the ice. Right now we're about 15-feet short length-wise. Regulation rinks are around 200-feet long and we are 185-feet. My hope would be to expand towards the back of the building into the area where the warming hut and concession stands currently are. Those I want to see moved to an expanded front with the addition of a front foyer to keep the heat out. This will allow spectators an excellent viewing area without having to walk all the way to the back of the building. We could then also put in a new meeting room, the showers, some more team rooms and a girls locker room. With the expansion of girls hockey and the fact that most youth teams are co-ed, girls need their own place to get changed. We can also move the Zamboni room to the back where the rest of the equipment to maintain the ice is stored.
Essentially, you want to give the building a bit of a face-lift.
Yes, we'll change the footprint of the building a bit and I want it done once and done right. We don't need all of the bells and whistles but we need the common sense things. I really feel that even though its a 40-year-old building if you throw some of the newer things in the people will like it better because its a better product and will generate better business.
Richard, thank you for the time and the insight.
You're welcome. Thanks for the coverage.