Construction begins on Kennewick’s new $3.4M ice plant

Mother Nature recently shared her wintry mix with the Tri-Cities, but the Three Rivers campus wants to be able to create its own ice year-round.

Construction of a new $3.4 million ice plant is underway at the Kennewick campus, which is home to the Toyota Center, Toyota Arena and Three Rivers Convention Center.

The Toyota Center is home to the Tri-City Americans hockey team, while the arena is used by amateur hockey teams, public skating, Zamboni school and a figure skating club. The center and arena have ice-making equipment, but Corey Pearson, executive director of VenuWorks, said business is being held hostage by the 30-year-old ice system.

“There was a new chiller put in about 20 years ago, but the system is outdated, so we’re replacing all that equipment,” Pearson said. “During a (Tri-City Americans) game last year, a couple of shiny lines showed up on the ice. You lose a hockey game or two (because equipment is down), and it hurts. With new equipment, we’ll be able to save that sheet of ice and operate no matter what happens.”

VenuWorks is contracted by the city of Kennewick and the Kennewick Public Facilities District to manage the facilities on the Three Rivers campus.

VenuWorks hired KDA of Yakima to design the 30-by-70-foot building. Kennewick-based O’Brien Construction Co. is the general contractor. Pearson is the project lead.

Oregon-based Apcco will provide and install refrigeration equipment.

Construction began in December and was ahead of schedule until the cold snap at the beginning of February slowed down work.

“The masonry walls were three quarters up but they had to stop when it got cold,” Pearson said. “It’s scheduled to be done in June.”

Once completed, the building will house a system that will create and maintain ice in the arena and center. There also will be room to add a compressor, which would cost an additional $100,000 but would allow for operation of a third rink.

“So if we ever need to expand, we can take care of it right there,” Pearson said.

The cost to operate the current system runs about $14,000 a month. By upgrading to more efficient equipment, he expected the bill to be significantly reduced.

“We’re still waiting on the numbers to come in, but it looks like it will cut the bill in half,” he said.

The project, which includes design and construction, is funded by the city of Kennewick’s capital budget. 

Along with lower maintenance costs, the quality of the ice will improve. Poor equipment leads to warm spots on the surface of the ice, and Pearson said those spots can be harder to scrape and smooth down. Pockets in the ice can cause safety issues for skaters.

Amateur hockey player Brian Mashburn said it also can affect the way the puck moves in a game.

“During games, there can be puddles in the ice that aren’t freezing. Just like in soccer, water can cause the puck to stop or slow down. It makes for bad game play,” said Mashburn, who’s said he’s excited about the improvements. “The staff works hard to make it the best they can, and we’re thankful for them.”

Before the new ice plant project, Pearson said workers replaced all of the old lighting, upgrading to a fully programmable LED light system in 2018 at a cost of about $400,000.

“We can change colors and lights instantly, and dim them from zero to 100. It’s changed the atmosphere,” said Pearson, who believes these types of improvements can make a big difference in attendance. “We feel like attendance has gone up. It’s hard to tell with games, but we’ve had more games sell out or come close than we have in quite a few years,” he said.

The next project on the horizon is to replace the video board at the Toyota Center. Right now, the board being used is not for video but for text, and if parts fail or break, they have to send it out to be refurbished.

“That’s because they’re not making parts anymore. It’s antiquated,” he said.

New video boards have better pixel pitch, which is the density of LED clusters on a display and correlates with resolution.

VenuWorks has yet to ask for bids for the new video board. He expects it to cost about $750,000 to $900,000.

The Kennewick City Council still will need to approve the expenditure, but Pearson hopes to have it installed this summer after the new ice plant is up and running.

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