PORTLAND – The Portland Ice Arena has been shut down until Labor Day so the city can make $625,000 worth of repairs to the rink’s ice-making system.

The city said Wednesday that it will replace the heating and chilling loops, which lie beneath the ice, the pumps and compressors and the chilling and heating units. Leaks in the system this winter caused frost heaves in the middle of the rink and a slant near one of the doors to the ice.

The city-owned arena is used by local high school hockey teams including Portland, Cheverus, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, and by a recreational figure skating program. Its closure will force many skaters and programs to scramble to find time on other rinks in southern Maine this summer.

The arena’s staff began melting the ice Sunday night, immediately after the 27th annual Portland Ice Arena Show. Repairs will begin in mid-May.

For several weeks before the closure, skaters were handed copies of a letter explaining that the arena will be closed all summer.

According to the letter, the Biddeford Ice Arena has offered to run a group lesson program on Wednesday afternoons for the month of August. The Portland Ice Arena’s skating director, Lynda Hathaway, will be on staff in Biddeford for the program.

While skaters were informed, city officials did not make an effort to tell the larger public about the problem. There are no signs about it at the arena, and there is no information on the arena’s website.

DJ Whitten, the arena’s manager, declined to answer questions Wednesday, saying he had been told to refer all calls about the closure to City Hall.

City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg issued a press release after The Portland Press Herald asked Whitten about the closure.

The city has issued a request for proposals and expects to select a contractor this week to make the repairs, City Manager Mark Rees said in the press release. He said the project will be funded largely through an energy-efficiency bond.

The City Council agreed in 2010 to borrow as much as $11 million for energy-efficiency improvement projects. Some of the planned projects, such as adding solar panels at the Reiche Elementary School, were eliminated because the panels would not have produced enough savings. That left the city with money to spend elsewhere.

Rees said the improvements to the Portland Ice Arena will dramatically reduce the hours that the compressor operates, saving 67,000 kilowatt hours a year for that part of the operation alone.

He also said the state’s Efficiency Maine program will provide rebates that will reduce the cost of the project. City Councilor Cheryl Leeman said the use of the energy-efficiency money appears appropriate, but the issue should come before the City Council so councilors can determine whether the payback in energy savings justifies the investment.

“If it’s coming out of the energy-efficiency money, we need to have that answer,” she said.

City Councilor John Anton, who chairs the council’s Finance Committee, said councilors were first informed about the issue by email a couple of months ago. He said he wants the city staff to provide the council with a “payback analysis” of making the repairs.

When the energy-efficiency bond was approved, language was included to allow flexibility in the way money is allocated, as long as it is for an energy-efficiency project, Clegg said.

She said the city’s bond counsel has told officials that Finance Director Ellen Sanborn is authorized to allocate the resources for the project.

Anton said he heard that the initial design of the ice rink’s cooling system was flawed. But, he said, all buildings deteriorate over time and need maintenance. “You own a building, things happen.”

The Portland Ice Arena, which opened in 1984, has four locker rooms, skate sharpening services, skate rentals and a concession area. It has seating capacity for 750 people.

As much as 90 percent of the arena’s budget is funded by user fees; the rest is covered by Portland taxpayers. The annual subsidy for the arena over the past 10 years has ranged from $828 to almost $144,000.

Each year, an estimated 60,000 people use the arena, as skaters or spectators. The city typically shuts down the arena right after its annual ice show, at the end of April or early May. The arena remains closed for six weeks for routine repairs.

Val Smith-Punsky, a skater and the mother of a skater, said in a blog post Wednesday that skaters “totally understand that these fixes need to be done.”

Ace Malette, commissioner of the Greater Portland Industrial Hockey League, which offers various levels of competition for adults, said in a statement that players are “extremely happy” about the project because it will address the problems they encountered this winter and illustrates the city’s commitment to the ice rink.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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