Concerns about the erosion of the steel beams that make up the Kenai Multi-Purpose Facility will, for a second year, close the rink for summer ice use, Kenai Public Works Director Scott Curtin told Kenai City Council members Wednesday.
The building, located near Kenai Central High School, was intended to be an outdoor facility and is thus not structured to keep the ice rink cool in the summer months. As a result, the condensation generated by use of the rink in the summer has caused the building’s steel beams to rust, as well as visible algae growth on the beams immediately above the rink.
The City of Kenai did not offer summer ice at the facility in 2022 due to similar concerns. Since then, Curtin said the city has treated the rust patches with a coating that neutralizes the erosion, as well as made improvements to the visual appeal of the space. Still, he said those fixes aren’t long-term solutions.
“We bought ourselves some time,” Curtin said Friday.
Curtin told council members on Wednesday that the facility was most recently evaluated in 2020 by Nelson Engineering, which recommended the rust coating. Without the coating, the firm gave the structure between two and four years before some of the purlins begin to rust through.
With the application of the coating, the facility’s life expectancy jumps to between five and 10 years, Curtin told council members. With the application of the rust coating and no summer ice use, the building could last for more than 10 years.
The condensation, which he said is the worst in spring and fall, can get so bad that it’s like “watching the kids play in fog.” That fog seeps into spaces that city crews cannot access with a paintbrush and coating, Curtin said, such as immediately under the facility’s roof. If purlins rust, Curtin said they are at risk of caving in.
“Then the ultimate fear is, if and when any of those fail, we have to close the facility,” Curtin said. “It becomes a safety issue at that point.”
Remodeling the building isn’t necessarily a solution either.
Facilities that act like refrigerators to keep ice cold all year long, Curtin said, are typically well-insulated to keep utility costs low. The addition of insulated panels to the City of Kenai’s steel facility would cause additional snow, that would no longer melt, to pile up on the building. The structure’s roof could not support that additional weight load.
“These steel buildings — they don’t lend well to remodeling,” Curtin told council members. “To go into these buildings and then try and turn them into something more than what they were intended to costs more money than it does to just do a new building.”
Multiple people spoke at Wednesday’s Kenai City Council meeting to advocate for more ice time this summer.
Jim Duffield, of Kenai, said his high school-aged son wants to start playing hockey again, but they learned recently there wouldn’t be ice at the facility this summer. Skaters are at a disadvantage compared to others around the state, who can access ice in the summer, Duffield said.
“They need that ice time to be competitive when the season comes in,” Duffield said. “All the kids that they’re skating against are getting to skate year-round.”
Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel told attendees that he has been communicating with members of Kenai’s hockey community to brainstorm possible solutions to the absence of ice at the multipurpose facility. The idea of outfitting the space for roller hockey, for example, has been floated, Gabriel said.
The city and residents of Kenai need to figure out whether or not there is enough demand for year-round ice. If the community opts to move forward with the construction of a facility that can accommodate ice all year, Curtin said it would take years before work could begin.
Curtin said he’s hopeful that the city will no longer use the facility for a summer ice rink so that the facility can be used as intended and stop eroding. The rust coating and algae treatment is a temporary solution and there remains a need for the community and the city to evaluate whether there is enough interest in and demand for a facility that has ice all year.
“If the true desire is to have year-round ice, it would be in everyone’s best interest to develop a future capital project plan to do just that,” he said.
Wednesday’s meeting of the Kenai City Council can be streamed on the city’s YouTube channel.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at email@example.com.