2017-12-21 / News

Fixes to ice arena among items in city proposal

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Before the city council approves a budget for fiscal year 2018-2019 in March, funding for each municipal department must be decided through the capital improvements plan.

The Biddeford Ice Arena has requested $350,000 for improvements to replace an aging refrigeration plant. City Manager Jim Bennett said York County Arena Association leases the ice arena from the city and pays the debt associated with the building. The city council has to approve any changes made to the facility, but the arena does not receive any municipal tax dollars. The facility has $410,000 of debt and makes annual payments to the city of $36,000.

The current system is more than 40 years old, one of the compressors is broken and new equipment should help save electricity costs. The Biddeford arena has ice from August until March and uses about 70,000 kilowatts on average every month, while the new system would use closer to 50,000. Miller Refrigeration, a Gray-based industrial refrigeration company, estimated the ice arena’s annual energy savings to be $11,200.

The current refrigeration system also still uses R22, or Freon, which will be illegal in the United States as of January 2020. Ice arena General Manager Craig King said the new system will use an ammonia-based refrigeration system. If funding is approved, the refrigeration replacement would occur in April to allow ice to be made by August.

“Because changing refrigerant compressor systems run differently under different parameters, there will be less energy consumption and it will run more efficiently than the old system,” King said.

Because this year’s capital improvement plan will look at funding projects for the next five years, the ice arena also requested $250,000 in fiscal year 2021 for new bleachers. The arena’s insurance company cited safety concerns that staff have addressed, such as railings that need to be replaced. King said the stands are about 40 years old. Cost estimates for the new bleachers were provided by Hussey Seating of North Berwick.

“I know that they were taken out of a gymnasium that they’d been used in years ago, I’m guessing probably sometime in the mid to late 1970s,” King said. “They’re considerably up in years.”

The current bleachers hold about 700 people and King said the new ones ideally will as well, but walkways will have to be widened to accommodate safety regulations.

The facilities department has requested $100,000 to replace boilers in city hall that were installed in 2005. One of three units in city hall and one of four in City Theater have failed and if one more unit breaks the buildings could lose heat. However, Facilities Director Phil Radding said the units only run one at a time and are designed to take turns being on.

“It’s not as if we could be out of heat tomorrow,” he said. “It’s set up that way. Basically two carry the building and one carries the theater on a normal day.”

Radding said the boilers were only designed to last about 15 years and the new ones should last another 20.

“The cost of equipment has gone way down,” he said. “What you don’t get in longevity you get in efficiency and cost savings. I think we do a very good job in terms of developing the capital improvement plan to try to get as much information together and then it’s council’s choice as to what they do.”

The city manager’s funding recommendations for each department are available on the city website and Bennett will send preliminary budget proposals to department heads after the first of the year before the final submission to the city council. Not including the school, municipal departments have requested more than $26 million for fiscal year 2018- 2019. Department heads were also required to project what their expected costs would be over the next five years.

Public works requested more than $3 million to cover improvements along Granite Point Road and a paving program. The two largest requests were for city hall with $8.5 million, which includes sidewalk improvements, information technology service updates and a parking structure. The next highest request is for the wastewater department with $6.8 million for sewer pipe replacements and new pump stations

“It’s pretty common for most people to think the capital improvement plan is a funding document. It’s not,” Bennett said. “CIP is a planning document and so I’m not asking anybody to fund anything based on where we are today. For the next five years, it’s what we think we’ll need for capital money and where we think the money could come from.”

According to Bennett’s presentation to the council, possible funding sources for capital improvements over the next five years include tax dollars, surplus, long term debt, grants, state or federal dollars, tax increment financing or revenue bonds. said he considered the goals of the council and how to help the city run more efficiently when making his recommendations.

“Between the city and the school we have $210 million worth of assets and we have to take care of them,” he said. “By spending money now we can save money down the road and generate new taxpayers in the community. Last year we funded computerized equipment for code enforcement to help fill everything out in the field. They didn’t have to spend more time in the office writing reports. That’s an example of making an investment and saving operational money.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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