SBJ/August 29-September 4, 2011/Facilities

Canadian arena will be first to use rainwater for hockey ice

Don Muret
A minor league hockey arena in western Canada will be the first sports facility in North America to make its ice surface out of rainwater that’s been collected from the building’s roof.

Abbotsford (B.C.) Entertainment and Sports Centre, home of the American Hockey League’s Abbotsford Heat, recently installed a new rainwater harvesting system. The city receives 60 inches of rainfall on average annually, almost twice the yearly rainfall of some other major cities in Canada.

The investment, valued at $20,000, is a partnership between the arena; Barr Plastics and Saxon Mechanical, the two local companies installing the equipment; and the city of Abbotsford, the arena’s owner. Barr Plastics has completed other rainwater collection systems for commercial and residential properties in Abbotsford, a 45-minute drive east of Vancouver. As part of the deal, Barr and Saxon signed one-year sponsorships with the team and the 7,000-seat arena.

JEFF BOUGH PHOTOGRAPHY
The Abbotsford arena is home to the Heat of the American Hockey League.
To collect the rainwater, Barr Plastics set up a system with downspouts to capture 8,000 gallons of water for every inch of rainfall. The portion of the roof where water is gathered measures 12,960 square feet, about one-quarter of the roof’s total size. After the rainwater is collected, it goes through a two-part filtration process before reaching storage tanks. The new system is connected to existing boilers to supply the Zamboni ice-making machine with hot water to form the playing surface.

The benefits of using the elements to form the ice floor extend beyond reducing the arena’s environmental footprint, according to arena officials. Conservative estimates project a yearly savings of $5,000 to $10,000, split equally between the arena’s water and power bills.

Rainwater harvesting also provides a cleaner look to the ice, said Tyler Wilson, Front Row Marketing’s corporate sales manager, who sold the sponsorship. City water has chemicals such as calcium sulphate and chlorine, and if left unfiltered, leaves a yellow hue on the ice surface.

In addition to the concourse and LED signs and club seats Barr Plastics receives, it will produce a “white paper” explaining the system’s benefits for other arenas managed by Global Spectrum, the arena operator in Abbotsford.

Front Row Marketing and Global Spectrum are both part of Comcast-Spectacor in Philadelphia. Dan Rubino, director of special projects for Global Spectrum, said he has yet to study how rainwater harvesting could be applied to other Global accounts. James Brown Arena, home to an ECHL team in Augusta, Ga., is going through a renovation, and it could be worthwhile to build a rainwater system there, in a humid climate with lots of rain, Rubino said. UCF Arena in Orlando, a college basketball facility without a hockey team, is another possibility in a region with heavy rainfall where the system could be used for irrigation and flushing toilets.

“It’s a work in progress,” he said of Abbotsford. “Once we have an understanding of the apparatus, we can explore other buildings. Depending on the region, it might not be worth the effort. In the Northwest, where it’s rainy, it makes sense as long as you have the roof space.”

Retrofitting older buildings adds to the expense, Rubino said. The Heat, the Calgary Flames’ top farm club, plays in the arena that opened in 2009, making it easier to install the rainwater system two years after the fact, project officials said.

KEEPING SCORE: The Charlotte Bobcats are upgrading the center-hung video board at Time Warner Cable Arena to become HD compatible, according to team officials.

When the arena opened in October 2005, the board was the facility’s signature element and the best in the NBA. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was so impressed after seeing it on a road trip that he instructed American Airlines Center management to get a newer board to replace an older center-hung structure that could have operated another seven years in Dallas.

Six seasons later in Charlotte, the board needs both repairs and newer technology. The past few years, some observers attending events at the arena have noticed burned-out LED bulbs, leaving black splotches on what was originally a crisp, clear image on the board’s video screens.

The Bobcats believe a power surge early last season damaged the board, although they were unable to pinpoint when it happened and what caused it, said Pete Guelli, the NBA club’s executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer. “I think it is safe to say it had an impact on the life cycle of the board,” Guelli said.

Last week, Daktronics, the board’s manufacturer, had employees working at the arena to replace every panel and pixel with new 6 millimeter technology, now the standard for high-definition LED screens in the NBA, said Steve Hellmuth, NBA Entertainment’s executive vice president of operations and technology. As part of the project, the Bobcats and NBA Entertainment are working together to reprogram the board’s graphics with a smaller “score bug” embedded into the live video feed, similar to what home viewers see on television, Hellmuth said.

The board’s design with four single screens is unique in the NBA, and with such large spaces, the Bobcats have challenges with graphic presentations that no other team has to contend with, he said.

The Bobcats plan to upgrade the arena’s control room in future years to go full HD with the video board.

The center-hung board should be ready for operation in early September. The Bobcats refused to disclose the cost to repair and improve the board.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.

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