The University of Alaska Fairbanks recently renewed its contract for its NCAA Division I hockey team to play this upcoming season at the Carlson Center.
However, the university’s administration is planning to have the Nanooks move from the Carlson’s Olympic-size ice (200x100 feet) and return to the regulation-size (200x85) and campus ice of the UAF Patty Ice Arena.
The Nanooks hockey team has been the anchor tenant of the Carlson Center since it opened in 1990.
UAF hockey started varsity play in the 1925-26 season. It began NCAA play in 1972-73 and is currently a member of the 10-team Western Collegiate Hockey Association, which includes the University of Alaska Anchorage.
UAF Chancellor Daniel White released a letter Thursday about the planned return to the Patty Ice Arena and it has to do with the advanced aging of the Carlson Center’s ice plant, or cooling system, underneath the arena’s floor.
Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Bryce Ward said the ice plant has been in the arena since its opening.
“It’s an R-22 based injection freon system,” Ward said by phone. “It’s noncompliant but it’s grandfathered. The point being it’s very old.
“The entire system — the compressors, the circulators, heat exchange, everything that’s piped in the floor, which actually cools the ice — we’re suspect to believe there’s some issues because you get soft ice areas, which means there’s a blockage in the line or there’s some of issue with that piping in that area.”
Ward said the borough has found indications the ice plant is beyond its useful life. The borough owns the Carlson Center, which is operated by SMG, a worldwide venue management company which is based in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.
“We had some challenges with it operationally that make us weary of its extended life,” he said. “The borough has been considering for the last several years replacement of the ice plant. It’s about $11.8 million.
Borough and UAF administration started having conversations earlier this year about the status and potential problems of the Carlson Center’s ice plant.
“What happens if the ice plant goes down and we’re not able to repair it?” Ward said. “And then extended conversations on what does that mean for the program? And we don’t want to leave them high and dry.”
Kristin Baysinger, general manager of the Carlson Center, said the R-22 coolant used in the arena’s ice plant is no longer being manufactured in the U.S.
“After, I believe it’s 2022, it will no longer be able to be used,” she said.
According to information on the Wyckoff Heating and Cooling website (wyckoffcomfort.com), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandated the phase-out of R-22 in 1990 because of growing environmental concerns. The phase-out, in accordance with The Clean Air Act, was enacted to protect the Earth’s ozone layer from the ozone-depleting chlorine compound found in R-22.
White stated in his letter Thursday that the Patty Ice Arena, for the upcoming season, will be used as backup option for the Nanooks hockey team “if the Carlson Center ice plant cannot meet our needs at any time during the 2019-20 season.”
White said in the letter that beginning this summer, UAF will undertake the planning needed to bring hockey on campus permanently within two years.
Two committees are scheduled to be formed. The first one, according to the letter, will be the Nanook Transition Committee. Six to eight individuals will be invited to serve on the committee, which focuses on transitioning Nanooks hockey to the UAF campus on a permanent basis.
The other committee will be the Nanook Ice Arena Steering Committee, which will focus its efforts on capitalization of a hockey venue on campus through a public and private partnership.
Jason Gootee, a UAF graduate and former president of the UAF Alumni Association, will guide the committee.
“The chancellor approached me a week or so ago about chairing a committee to look at the various ways to help with the finance aspect of bringing hockey back on campus,” said Gootee, who graduated from UAF in 2005 with a bachelor of arts degree in English. He earned an MBA at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau in 2013.
No information about planned renovations of the Patty Ice Arena was announced Thursday.
“All I can tell you is we’re going to the Carlson Center this year. Everything else is being developed,” Sterling Steward, Jr., UAF athletics director, said by phone.
The Carlson Center seats 4,545 for hockey and the Patty Ice Arena currently has a seating capacity of 1,047.
The WCHA also requires an arena to have a minimum seating capacity of 2,500.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.