At Woodstock Arena, Zero Is a Net Gain

  • Union Arena operations manager Adam Larson gives the ice a fresh coat before high school hockey practices start at Union Arena in Woodstock, Vt., on Jan. 17, 2017. (Sarah Priestap photograph)

  • Union Arena General Manager EJay Bishop, left, and project designer Harold Mayhew, of Barnard, Vt., stand on the ice at Union Arena in Woodstock, Vt., on Jan. 17, 2017. (Sarah Priestap photograph)

  • Liz Currier, a junior from Brownsville, Vt., who homeschools, arrives early to the Woodstock girls hockey practice to get some extra ice time while coach Ian Cotes prepares for the practice at Union Arena in Woodstock, Vt., on Jan. 17, 2017. (Sarah Priestap photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Woodstock — To combat costly energy bills, Union Arena is aiming for zero.

Putting forth an ambitious plan to make the Woodstock facility into North America’s first net-zero public skating rink, according to UA board chairman Harold Mayhew, management at the nonprofit community center has raised about a third of the project’s $1.4 million goal and completed phase one in November.

Mayhew, a Barnard resident and architect who was Union Arena’s chief designer and project manager when it was built in 2003, has doubled as the rink’s chairman since 2013. His company, Bear Mountain Design, performed an energy output analysis there about five years ago and later developed a four-tier plan in hopes the facility can become net-zero. If completed, the facility’s total electricity and heating-fuel costs would be offset through efficiency improvements and renewable energy.

The arena currently pays about $140,000 per year for its electric and fuel costs, about a third of its annual budget. If the net-zero campaign is successful, about $90,000 of those expenses would be offset through efficiency improvements to the arena’s existing refrigeration, heating and cooling systems. The other $50,000 would be generated from the use of solar panels to be installed during phase three of the project.

Union Arena general manager EJay Bishop hopes the savings will eventually help reduce ice-time rental fees at the rink — at $225 per hour, they’re in the middle among public skating rinks in Vermont, he said — while at the same time significantly lowering its greenhouse gas emissions.

“From a global standpoint, we’re all in this together,” said Bishop on Tuesday during a tour of the building’s control rooms. “We know it’s important to reduce our carbon footprint wherever we can at the same time we strive to keep the rink sustainable. If we’re able to lead the way and be the first net-zero public skating facility in North America, I think it would say a lot about Woodstock and our region.”

Phase one was completed in November thanks entirely to individual donors — the project is not seeking tax money or loans — and primarily included refrigeration system upgrades. The enhancements included new water-tank filters, rebuilt compressors and a new cooling tower and motor, among other improvements.

“A lot of the components were the same ones installed in 2003, which were good for their time but in need of upgrades,” Mayhew said. “You could think of it like computers and what computers were like in 2003 compared to now. There is equipment now that is faster and more reliable.”

Phase two will aim to improve the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, including more efficient boilers and duct extensions that will help more evenly disperse heat. Heat recovery equipment will also create what Mayhew called an economizer cycle, detecting carbon dioxide levels — in other words, the number of people in the rink — and recirculating heat as necessary.

“It’s called an air modulator unit that, depending on the amount of people, can determine how much new (hot) air to put out,” Mayhew said. “It can reuse the heat over and over, whereas now, even if there aren’t a lot of people in the building, the heat from the boilers is 100 percent ejected into the rink and into the atmosphere.”

A more efficient dehumidification system is currently slotted for the final phase of the project but could be bumped to phase two, since it would complement the project’s heat-saving efforts, Mayhew said.

Keeping the ice surface palatable and the rink comfortable were important considerations when the project was being laid out, Bishop noted.

“Some rinks, to save money, will turn down the refrigeration and open the doors to let in the cold from the outside, but then you can end up with a slushy ice surface,” Bishop said.

“You might also see places turn the heat way down but, you know, the spectators feel that. A big part of this project is that we want to reduce costs without sacrificing the quality of the experience for either those skating or for people in the stands. Skating is a life sport like skiing or tennis, but it doesn’t become one if you don’t have a great experience at the rink.”

Phase three would install solar panels to offset remaining electricity use, while phase four would focus on integrating the building’s refrigeration and HVAC systems so they may respond to each other’s settings and generate the most efficient environments.

“Both systems will have new controls that will literally be connected to each other (with wiring),” Mayhew said. “It will be like two brains connected to each other. Einstein essentially had two brains (one logical, one creative) that were interconnected, and that’s what made him such a genius. That’s essentially what we’re going to try to do here.”

Capturing and storing wasted heat and new lighting are also aspects of phase four, a stage estimated to cost $460,000.

Stage two has an estimated price tag of $410,000, the first chunk of which is still being collected through Union Arena’s annual appeal.

“How soon all of this gets done is really a matter of when the funding becomes available,” Mayhew said.

“Our annual appeal will give us a good start. We’ve had several dozen donors so far. Some are donating $15, some are donating thousands. To be honest, it’s the $15 donations that are the most encouraging because they’re the ones that show you that even people who don’t have a lot of money to put toward the rink, they still value having it here. We need as many people like that as possible to support the project and the facility.”

For more information or to donate, visit http://unionarena.org/project/sustainable-arena-campaign.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.