The much-needed renovation of the Benton H. Wilcoxon Municipal Ice Complex is set to begin in October, but that won’t stop what Iceplex Senior Facility Manager Steve Clough calls the “prime season” for the long-time facility.
Clough and his staff are anxious for work to begin on the second phase of a capital project that is costing more than $14 million. All facets of the first phase, which includes locker rooms, a multi-purpose room and a new Zamboni, are either complete or near completion. On Sept. 12, the Huntsville City Council voted to approve $11.1 million in funding for phase II of the project. The contractor, Lee Builders, is anxious to get started in early October.
Huntsville on Ice
Many newcomers to Huntsville are surprised to discover a vibrant “ice” athletic community in the City with active youth and adult hockey teams and figure skating programs.
Ice sports have been a part of the community since the early 1960s when Benton Wilcoxon opened the first ice rink, called the Ice Palace, on Governors Drive – close to where Lowery Boulevard is now. Wilcoxon later donated that facility to the City but skaters quickly outgrew the space. Local citizens helped raise the funds for a new complex on Leeman Ferry, which opened 28 years ago.
“The Iceplex was outstanding at the time, and it remains one of the most popular recreational facilities in Huntsville,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “But with so much wear and use, particularly on the 30-year-old ice-making and HVAC systems, it is now time for a major overhaul.”
$14 million renovation
The Iceplex management in partnership with the City’s General Services Department commissioned an assessment of the entire facility. General Services Director Ricky Wilkinson says, “The assessment thoroughly evaluated all of the building systems including roof, exterior façade, mechanical and lighting systems, flooring, and all aspects of ADA compliance. This study serves as the playbook for everything to be accomplished in Phase II. When complete, this work will reset the facility for many years to come.”
Wilkinson says the scope of work also includes upgrades to some patron amenities like the concessions and food service areas and rink-side seating.
Before that happens, however, Clough says there is still some hockey, ice-skating and other events that need to be accommodated. “Prime season” begins in early October and runs through spring break.
“Most of the hockey-playing starts winding down in late February, early March,” Clough said. “We normally have playoffs for adult and youth leagues, and then sometimes we may host a special event in the month of March. There shouldn’t be any interruption of service, as far as what we do for our patrons, with the ice in that time frame.”
For Lee Builders, this means a whole new “Contractor on Ice” show. Throughout the year-long construction schedule, the Iceplex management team, City project managers and Lee Builders will work to minimize the impact on users of the facility. While there will be periods of whole-facility closure during the spring and summer to accommodate aspects of the project, every opportunity to mitigate disruption is being pursued, including acquiring ice time at alternate locations.
“Those schedules are being refined right now by the team and will be communicated to the public well in advance of any closures,” says Wilkinson. Patrons can monitor the Iceplex website at hsviceplex.org for regular updates on the projects and schedule changes.
“The big thing is, in my opinion, there is going to be a big wow factor,” Clough said.
Keeping a world on ice
The “Wow” factor aside, at the forefront of the renovation, is the state-of-the-art mechanical system and ice-making equipment.
“The most important thing for people to realize is this facility is now 27 years old,” Clough said. “All of the major mechanical equipment, the ice making compressors, the dehumidification systems, all our heating, and air systems are pretty much all original. Over time, we’ve replaced individual compressors, but when you have a building this old, you surpass the useful life of the majority of your equipment. We’re very happy to now have the funding approved by the Council to replace those systems.”
While the facility closes for a period of months next year, Clough is working with his user groups on alternate arrangements.
“There is going to be some pain with the shutdown but the end result is we’re going to have a fabulous facility,” said Clough. “With the dramatic rink improvements and the new locker and meeting rooms, we’ll be able to accommodate the needs of our skaters, host more events and provide an even greater economic impact to Huntsville.”