The Cloquet City Council ordered a detailed study of Northwoods Credit Union Arena and Pine Valley Arena after an audit estimated needed repairs at more than $4 million.

The city took over the ownership of the buildings from the Cloquet Area Hockey Association in January. CAHA asked the city to become the owners because both buildings need costly repairs and improvements over the next few years — something the organization couldn’t afford.

In October, a leak was discovered in the pipes below the floor of Pine Valley that required the city to purchase 5,000 pounds of refrigerant at a cost of $50,000.

About the same time, Cloquet Public Works Director Caleb Peterson asked McKinstry — building consultants based in Roseville, Minn., the city had worked with on the Cloquet Public Library expansion project — to perform an audit of the needed repairs to both arenas.

McKinstry business manager Ed Zepeda presented a report during a council work session Tuesday, Dec. 17, with a number of priorities that included converting the rink floors to an indirect cooling system, installing a new ammonia-based ice plant that would serve both arenas and improving the dehumidification system in NCUA. The preliminary estimates showed costs could rise to more than $4 million.

An audit of needed repairs Northwoods Credit Union Arena in Cloquet revealed a for more than  $3 million in repairs to the arena. The most pressing need, however, is improving the dehumidification system that would cost up to $325,000. Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal
An audit of needed repairs Northwoods Credit Union Arena in Cloquet revealed a for more than $3 million in repairs to the arena. The most pressing need, however, is improving the dehumidification system that would cost up to $325,000. Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal

Converting the ice plant to an ammonia-based system could more than $3 million in 2020, but Zepeda said the more pressing needs are converting Pine Valley to an indirect cooling system and improving the dehumidification capabilities in NCUA which could cost more than $1 million.

Converting Pine Valley to an indirect system would save the city approximately $100,000 over five years in operational costs. An indirect system would have the added benefit of using less than 1,000 pounds of R-22 refrigerant instead of its current 5,000-pound charge.

R-22 will no longer be produced in or imported to the U.S. after Dec. 31, giving the city an over-supply if something happened to the plant at NCUA or Pine Valley. Cloquet could also sell R-22 if it is no longer needed. The refrigerant gas is no longer produced in the U.S., so the price could rise dramatically over the next few years.

The city set aside approximately $1 million in local-option sales tax money for repairs to the arenas, but needs a more accurate cost estimate before the city council can take action.

McKinstry did the initial audit at no cost to the city and would roll the cost of the detailed engineering study into the building repairs if the city moves forward. If the city chooses to wait, it would pay McKinstry about $7,000 for the study.

The engineering study will product an “actionable” cost estimate for the city, interim City Administrator James Barclay said.

Zepeda also guaranteed the scope of work that would be included in the study.

“If we miss something, shame on us,” Zepeda said. “We’ll eat it.”