The Cloquet City Council awarded a $626,000 contract to Commercial Refrigeration to replace the floor and convert the Pine Valley Arena to an indirect cooling system during its meeting Tuesday, July 7.

The council voted 5-1 to approve the contract, with Ward 5 Councilor Steve Langley voting against the motion.

The city took over the ownership of Pine Valley and Northwoods Credit Union Arena from the Cloquet Area Hockey Association in January 2019. 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.

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At the same time, the city asked McKinstry Essention — building consultants based in Roseville, Minnesota, that the city had worked with on the Cloquet Public Library expansion project — to perform an audit of the needed repairs to both arenas.

McKinstry found more than $4 million in needed repairs and recommended a multi-phased approach to completing the work.

The first phase is to replace the floor and convert Pine Valley to an indirect cooling system. Converting Pine Valley to an indirect system could 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 5,000 pounds.

R-22 is no longer being produced in the U.S. or being imported, 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.

Commercial Refrigeration was the only bidder on the project, but the bid came in nearly $140,000 less than McKinstry’s estimate. Cloquet Public Works Director Caleb Peterson said the company is “well recognized as one of the leading contractors in refrigeration systems around the state.”

At its June 16 meeting, the council awarded a $346,000 contract to Four Star Construction to replace the dehumidification system at NCUA as the other piece of the first phase of repairs.

The city set aside approximately $1.1 million in local-option sales tax money for repairs to the arenas. Using sales tax money prevents the majority of the cost of the project from falling on the backs of local property taxpayers.

The bids for the repairs are nearly $170,000 less than the amount the city budgeted for the first phase. However, Peterson said the council could expect some changes that will add to the cost.

“To be honest, I would not be totally surprised if we run into change orders,” Peterson said. “Our as-built records are poor at best and you’ve got an older facility here, but the good news is we’ve got $170,000 to play with.”

The second phase of the project would be to convert the ice plant for both buildings to an ammonia-based system. McKinstry estimated the cost of the conversion to be approximately $3 million, but it would also end the arenas’ reliance on R-22.

This story was updated at 1:40 p.m. on July 8 with the correct date of the Cloquet City Council meeting. It was originally posted at 9:10 a.m. on July 8. The Pine Journal regrets the error.