Brattleboro skating rink on thin ice

Wednesday January 16, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Equipment failures at the Nelson Withington Skating Facility are forcing the Selectboard to scramble for some extra funding for next year.

Compressors at the rink have failed over the past few weeks, causing the town to close the rink down for a few days this past weekend, and the town is looking at spending up to $172,000 to upgrade the equipment.

Now the board is trying to figure out how it wants to pay for the service.

The 60-horsepower compressor failed at the rink on Dec. 31, and while waiting for the refrigeration company to come work on it, the secondary 100-hp compressor broke down on Jan. 11.

The rink was closed Friday evening and all day Saturday.

Workers were able to work on the machinery Saturday and the rink reopened with a single 60-hp compressor on line Sunday morning.

The rink is open with parts from the two compressors but vendors recommend that the old machinery not be upgraded.

If the town wants to work with the equipment at the rink it will cost between $18,000 and $20,000 to get the 100-hp compressor working.

A new system will cost $172,000.

Recreation and Parks Director Carol Lolatte said she was going to meet with refrigeration experts Wednesday to find out what the options will be to fix the equipment.

If the board decides to invest in the new compressors the board might need to adjust the proposed 2014 budget to raise the money. Adding $172,000 to the budget would raise the tax rate by about a penny.

Lolatte also told the board the town has a capital fund that is built on ice rink income. She said there is about $77,000 in the fund, though Town Manager Barbara Sondag cautioned the board from spending down the fund too much because it gives the Rec Department a cushion when there are capital upgrades.

Lolatte said the rink will be open for six-and-a-half more weeks and she said she hopes the equipment will hold out for the rest of the season.

The town upgraded the skating rink equipment in 2009, but according to Park Supervisor Paul Ethier the 2009 upgrade "Has been making the existing compressors work right on the edge of their abilities."

"Running compressors at that capacity has led to an increase in breakdowns," Ethier wrote to the board.

The more expensive option includes replacing the compressor package with a new and more reliable machine. The new equipment is also more efficient and should save the town money on maintenance and energy costs in the long run.

Ethier, in his note to the Selectboard, said it would be more expensive and less reliable to continue using the older equipment.

"We have to repair or replace regardless of which option we choose," he wrote. "I feel the money is better spent on a full replacement which will better serve the town in the short and long term."

The Selectboard will try to decide how it wants to come up with the money at its next meeting, but it will need to decide before the Jan. 31 deadline for issuing the Town Meeting warning.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.


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