The cold temperatures of winter pose challenges to everyone and everything.
And that includes the Hay River Rec Centre – a large complex containing a swimming pool, an arena, a curling rink and more.
In fact, Stephane Millette, the recreation director with the Town of Hay River, says the Rec Centre faces a lot of challenges.
“There are systems throughout the building that are meant to operate under certain conditions, but those systems they’re not designed to operate in 40-plus below weather like day after day after day,” he said. “At a certain point, those systems are affected.”
In fact, Millette noted some affects can be seen when the temperatures fall below -20 and maintenance personnel have to start making adjustments.
“Once we’re getting into 35-40 below day after day then we’re reaching out to contractors to help out with some of the work that our maintenance guys are not certified to make improvements and changes,” he added.
Millette explained that a building like the Rec Centre has different mechanical systems for operating the ice surface, the curling ice surface, the pool and just general heating and ventilation.
“All those systems are designed and manufactured down south, and then they’ve got to operate in these extreme cold conditions,” he said. “For the most part, where it affects us is the heating and ventilation system.”
In essence, the air pressure in the building has to be balanced so not too much warm air is leaving and the right amount of outside air is entering, but not so much that the building gets cold.
“You get areas that start feeling cold or even doorframes that start freezing up,” said Millette. “Or sometimes it’s the exhaust air that starts frosting up and freezing up.”
The rec director noted that an imbalance can sometimes be heard under doors.
“Whenever you hear whistling through doors that means there’s air either coming in the building or going out of the building,” he said.
Millette noted significant work to the aquatic centre’s air-handling unit was done in November and December, and that has improved the air balance.
“But when we get cold weather then there’s minor adjustments that you have to make, especially given that we did a lot there to improve that air handler so that it works better in cold weather,” he said.
The Rec Centre has two major air-handling units and smaller air handlers that operate in certain areas of the building.
While air handling is the main issue in cold weather, there are other impacts on the Rec Centre.
For example, the pool’s water-quality systems can be affected because the pipes that provide automated chemical feeds for the pool’s pumps are in outside walls, and they can frost up in cold weather.
Millette said, if those systems don’t operate well, then the pool chemicals can sometimes be outside of regulations.
In fact, over the holidays, the pool was once closed for a day and another time for a half day because of issues with the cold.
“There were a couple of pool closures that were due to low chlorine levels, which was due to that automated chlorine feed that was affected by the cold,” said Millette. “Chlorine lines were freezing, basically is what happened. They freeze up a little bit, which means that chlorine isn’t getting to the pool. We see the chlorine levels drop and so our maintenance guys they go through their checks and they realize it’s got to be the chlorine lines that are frozen.”
Millette noted that the cold also impacts the ice at the curling rink, which is run by the Hay River Curling Club.
The curling ice surface closest to the outside wall is the hardest for the club to maintain, he said. “That ice just basically gets eaten away by that cold air. So they’re constantly adjusting and maintaining that ice sheet differently than the other two.”
Millette explained that the arena ice is the least affected by the cold outside.
“The ice quality can vary a little bit more for a skating rink as compared to a curling rink. So our ice quality does change,” he said. “The ice gets softer or sometimes it gets more brittle. The cold can make it more brittle and the ice chips away a little bit more, and you get deeper ruts if it’s warm and the ice is softer. But it doesn’t affect the play as much as it would for curling.”
The arena’s room temperature is maintained by the air-handling system.
Millette explained that the contrast between the room temperature and the temperature of the slab under the ice can affect ice quality, so the temperature of the slab can be adjusted so there’s less of a contrast.