By Lynne Bronstein
Is the Culver City Ice Arena safe to reopen and operate? No, according to the city's report on the facility. Yes, according to a letter that was posted last week on the ice rink supporter's Facebook page. Yes in the short term, No in the long term, according to a letter sent to the city by the same consultant who wrote the letter that found the rink safe.
Hope for the arena's future sprung up last week following a contentious City Council meeting at which reports on the ice rink's safety by Fire Chief Chris Sellers and Fire Marshall Mike Bowden were met with skepticism and even hisses.
Suspicious supporters found comfort when a letter from refrigeration safety consultant Complete Thermal Services was posted to "Save Culver City Ice Rink" by Nadine Lewis, the attorney for the Takahashi family that operates the Ice Arena.
In this letter, company president William L. Clements reported on the findings of his employee John Ulfeldt's survey of the arena's refrigeration system taken on February 11, nine days after the facility was closed.
"The ammonia system is currently operating properly," said Clements' letter. "The system was installed approximately 50 years ago; however, not all the components of the system are that old. The evaporative condenser was replaced in 1988 and the chiller was replaced in 1995. The compressors are the original compressors; however, they have been repaired and/or rebuilt as needed over the years."
No leaks were found in the ammonia system. Some leaks that existed in the brine system have been repaired.
The Complete Thermal report concluded that there is no danger at this time from the ammonia system but it did recommend the installation of an underfloor heating system for the ice rink or the installation of a new ice rink floor which would include the underfloor heating system.
Lewis told Culver City web site TheFrontPageOnline that she spent time with Ulfeldt at the Ice Arena where he took her on a tour of some of the equipment. She stated that she believed his many years of experience as well as the stats favoring the rink's safety (there has never been a 911 call to the city from the rink as opposed to other ice rinks).
Lewis noted however on the Facebook page that Complete Thermal Services was also being retained as a consultant by the city. And on February 17, Clements sent a letter to City Manager John Nachbar, as well as to Sellers and Bowden, in which he seemed to have turned around on his opinion of the facility's safety.
"While some have inferred the rink is safe to operate in its current condition for up to 10 years, that is not the case," said the letter.
"As I have stated, the rink should only be operated in its current condition on a short-term basis, which realistically is no more than six months.
"Any operation beyond that would require significant repairs and upgrades to be made to the refrigeration system."
Six months is the time allotted for the lease on the property by the Takahashi family, an arrangement made last week just before the council meeting. The previously announced lessee, rock climbing business Planet Granite, whose plans for renovating the building had originally necessitated the closure and overhaul of the ice rink, cancelled its lease agreement a few days ago.
Another development has been the installation of 24-hour police guards around the arena building at 45 Sepulveda Boulevard. There was reportedly a break-in on February 13 at the site.
On February 14 the City Attorney's office sent a letter to Mike Karagozian, owner of the facility, informing him that he had not filed a closure plan and that the city was within its rights to order him to "vacate" and to "abate public nuisance(s) and unsafe conditions."
According to the city report on the Ice Arena, the city had required Karagozian to file a facility closure plan within 30 days. Despite continued contacts from the city, the plan was not filed as the owner had said that the new lessee (Planet Granite) would take charge of that.
"Recognizing the complexity of the situation, the City consulted with experts in the fields of ice rink operation, refrigeration system, and environmental remediation to obtain experienced assistance in the safe decommissioning process," said the city report.
The City Manager was then referred to Clements, who "conveyed that the Refrigeration System was at or near the end of its useful life. He also outlined what would be required to safely remove the anhydrous ammonia present in the system and the complications that would present themselves with the melting of the ice and the importance of making sure the Refrigeration System is not turned off before the anhydrous ammonia can be safely removed."
As a consequence, the city is taking the actions it deems necessary for public safety.
The Takahashis still hope to reopen the facility on March 1 but as of now, it is uncertain what way things will go for the longer picture.