The June solstice has come and gone again, that is the day we start heading too a new ice sports season but once more and even more so this year Ice Rink users at Moray Leisure Centre (MLC) are uncertain as to whether we will have an ice rink when the season starts.

That summarises the situation as at today, due to many factors in previous years but in particular this year when capital expenditure is required due to European regulation 2037 / 2000 which was introduced in 2000 which in summary stated that R 22 refrigerant was banned in all new refrigeration equipment and the use of R 22 refrigerant would be banned from use in any shape or form at the end of 2014. MLC ice centre uses R 22

Ice4All was formed back in 2010 when the Elgin rink fell yet again under threat of closure due to threatened withdrawal of Moray Council (TMC) funding for Moray Leisure Centre.

Ice4All’s current structure includes representatives from curling, figure skating and ice hockey; mandates to Ice4All from these users were signed back in February 2012 giving them the mandate to represent their interests in the current MLC consultation and in any future discussions with MLC and TMC regarding the provision and operation of ice facilities at MLC. These mandates are now covered by a constitution agreed by all parties.

Ice4All has worked tirelessly on that funding subject but also promoting to the MLC and TMC the urgency of taking remedial action to overcome the looming legislation prior to the end of 2014

In addition to their ice sports experience the group also comprises members with significant technical and business management skills including direct experience in the profitable operation of other rink facilities. It is felt that the group understands the needs of the various club members through being passionate ice users themselves and can also demonstrate the business acumen required to have an informed dialogue with TMC and MLC about the refrigeration equipment

There are two key concerns, but before stating the reasons it has to be clarified a statement made and minuted by a member of MLC staff at a recent Curling meeting:- Quote Ice4all have advised Moray Council that when Drop in Gas System fails, it can’t be replaced. A statement with no clarification.
Clarification by Ice4All
Let us make it clear that in the event of the Drop in Gas solution being the only option on the table and the alternative is to risk the closure of the rink then clearly all users including Ice4All would want to ensure the rink stays open by whatever means possible.

First key concern: – it regards the proposed upgrade of the refrigeration plant as a short term “sticking plaster” solution which does not guarantee the ongoing security of the facility.

Secondly:- the perennial risk of closure or cut backs arising out of Council spending reductions mean that even though the refrigeration plant is replaced by brand new equipment there is still the perennial challenge of the recurring losses incurred by (MLC) that are underwritten by the TMC year on year. This funding could be withdrawn at any time by TMC and without such a subsidy (currently over £500,000 a year) the MLC state the operation of the MLC is simply not sustainable.

The sail ion points for a New Plant
The plant has been in place for 20 years and was second hand when installed and could suffer catastrophic failure at any time. Changing the gas does not extend plant life; in fact to the contrary, it will place additional loadings on the plant which increases the threat of failure. Users should ask themselves what happens if such a failure occurs and neither MLC nor the Council have funding to then effect repairs or replace the plant?
Quote from Institute of Refrigeration
Efficiency might get worse, cooling capacity might fall, some risks of reliability problems, plant life not extended.
If a plant is relatively old > e.g. 15 years, then plant replacement is likely to be the best option

The current opportunity to get 50% maximum funding  from Sport Scotland to replace the plant will be lost if this interim solution is adopted. When plant replacement becomes unavoidable this essential source of primary funding will simply not be available after 2014 and it is unlikely TMC and MLC will have funds to meet the total cost of such a project. Sport Scotland is openly concerned about the short term nature of the proposed works by MLC which they consider to be ill advised. Future plant failure could herald immediate permanent closure of the facility.
The history on reliability of the present plant is not good and reference by MLC to high running and repair costs is a well used statement by the MLC management.
Modern plants recently installed at other rinks to address the R22 problem are running at operational cost savings of between 30 and 45%. Over the course of a typical 15 year life this is a substantial sum. Such savings will not be realised through an exchange of gas type.
One company quoted MLC in April 2012 based on running cost of £0.078 per hour

New 140 kwh per 168 hours (6 Weeks) – £1303.68

MLC present plant 190 kwh per 168 hours (6 Weeks) – £2489.76   ) saving £1186.08.

MLC plant runs at present 50 Wks per year = 8.33 * £1186.08 = £9,880 saving

Energy is one of a facility’s highest costs and that kind of saving over say a 15/20 year life of a new plant is a massive overall cost saving, whilst simultaneously reducing the facility’s carbon footprint of TMC.

The local community has been waiting anxiously for a long time for a MLC decision on funding however MLC firmly put the boot on TMC saying they MLC are just contractors to the Council, even allowing for the MLC chairman announcing at the Christmas skating Gala that he had found a solution which could lift the threat of closure.

He Drew Baillie had personally came across the solution of a new drop in gas being developed would be much cheaper and would be guaranteed for five years. He also stated we will put a proposal in front of the council early in the New Year and if the worst came to the worst and the council cannot find the money it is a sum which should be achievable from other sources. £40,000 to £50,000.

While all of affected rinks in Scotland have installed new plant with many taking advantage of sportscotland 50% funding package MLC proposes a ‘drop-in gas’ conversion solution. Conversion solutions for R22 have been about for years – not since Christmas 2013 they’re just not technically achievable on certain plants and on others while feasible, they increase the prospects of mechanical failure in an aging plant and give none of the operations cost savings of a modern plant.

It seems as a solution its high on press inches and hype yet low in technical detail. Drop in gas to convert its existing plant, which was not even a new plant when it was first installed at Elgin, is short sighted and both commercially and technically flawed. This plan should be abandoned in favor of a permanent solution with its attendant benefits.

When MLC presented an inflated first quotation to TMC for a new plant, piping and headers costing £847,704 where various public bodies would provide funding its now produced this drop in gas system for the Chairman’s quotation at the 2013 ice gala of £50,000. Bells should have started ringing at MLC head Quarters backing up the presentations Ice4All had been promoting over years to TMC and MLC the content which was created from technical experts and others who had been through the same process.

It also beggars belief that the stage one (of two) process of making a Sport Scotland funding application took over a year to complete and required the use by MLC of an external administrative consultant (no technical experience) probably at a cost of several thousand pounds, when other organisations using only internal administration resources with Sport Scotland giving the guidance and mentoring with regard to the application for the funding there was no reinventing the wheel. That money would have been better spent on finding sound advice from a technically competent refrigerant engineer and from all other ice rinks that have gone through this process before MLC. It is also surely an anomaly that technical officers from appropriate department in TMC were not involved from the start after all MLC just being the sport and Leisure contractor with not one person refrigeration technically minded employee carried out the bidding process.

Financial figures more realistic to reality can be obtained very quickly and so all is not lost if TMC take on board they are responsible for the MLC not the MLC board who are just Sport and Leisure contractors

The ice rink is a competitive and recreational sports facility not only for Elgin but for Moray as a whole with those taking part in the sports available at the rink coming from all parts of Moray

Curling, figure skating, hockey and recreational skating are all very popular and strong clubs exist in all disciplines with good development and performance programme for each sport taking the participants from grass roots to Olympic standard.

Figure skating at MLC is renowned to have one of the most successful competitive teams in the UK while curling has seen success at junior and wheelchair curling with the latter coming home with the medals from the 2014 winter Olympics, while ice hockey is again producing a winning format both at junior and senior levels.

The rink is home to national champions, international athletes and Olympic medalists.

It is used by thousands of people from all over Moray in a season