STEVE SCOTT, Pioneer Press
Date: October 29, 2004

Roseville's John Rose Minnesota Oval has more than a long name, an international reputation and the biggest sheet of artificial ice in the world.

It also has a chilling problem heading into its 12th winter -- it won't open on time and maybe not at all.

Its state-of-the-art cooling system -- which allows for outdoor ice in temperatures up to 50 degrees -- is leaking the saltwater solution that freezes the 110,000-square-foot ice surface.

Roseville must decide whether to replace the 20,000-gallon chiller, fix it or shut it down for the winter. The solutions range from a $300,000 chiller replacement to flooding the surface the old-fashioned way and hoping for cold weather.

"We're quite disappointed about the problems ...," said Melissa Scott, a spokeswoman for U.S. Speedskating in Westlake, Ohio. "We might be losing our entire season."

The Oval is one of five Olympic-quality speed-skating venues in the United States, along with West Allis, Wis., Salt Lake City, Lake Placid, N.Y., and Butte, Mont.

"The Oval is important for development on the elite levels, as well as hosting our competitions," Scott said.

Roseville earlier this year spent $80,000 to find and patch corrosive leaks in several of the 831 tubes in the chiller unit, which sends a brine solution beneath the Oval's concrete surface through 84 miles of tubing and allows ice to be made.

But the chiller continued to lose pressure, and a separate leak was detected somewhere below the Oval's surface.

It would take at least $175,000 -- and six to eight weeks -- to replace the tube bundle, parks and recreation director Lonnie Brokke said.

It would take about $300,000 and 12 to 14 weeks to replace the entire chiller.

City staff is preparing to outline options to the City Council at its Nov. 8 meeting. The Oval season typically runs mid-November through March.

"The city does establish certain reserve funds to accommodate these circumstances, but that's still a lot of money," Roseville finance director Chris Miller said. "We wouldn't make any recommendation lightly, but we also are mindful that the Oval is an asset of the community that has a lot of value."

The Oval, which opened in 1993, is worth more than $4 million, Miller said.

It hosts youth and novice speed-skating and bandy programs and brings in about $175,000 a year, compared with operating costs of about $275,000.

"It needs about $100,000 from the general tax levy to keep it operational," Miller said. "That's a commitment the city made years and years ago, and one of the issues the council will have to deal with is: Do you want to make the fix that's needed and continue to support it at the level that's needed?"

The indoor ice arena next door is unaffected and will be open as usual throughout the winter for hockey and figure skating.

The Junior World Speedskating Championships were held at the Oval last February. No world events were planned this season, but the schedule included the John Rose Open in December, the America's Cup in January, and the North American Bandy Tournament next month.

"We've been in close contact with all the user groups, and they're working with their event schedulers," Brokke said. "We're looking at everything, from whether it does get repaired, or it doesn't, or it gets repaired later in the season."

Steve Scott may be reached at sscott@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5526.

Roseville Oval at a glance

*World's largest outdoor skating facility: 110,000-square-foot conrete area used for ice skating in winter and inline skating in summer.

*Grandstands seat up to 300 spectators.

*Host to events such as World Cup Speedskating and World and National Bandy Championships.

*Used by the likes of former Olympians Dan Jansen, Bonnie Blair, Paul Wylie and Neal Broten and former Gov. Jesse Ventura.

*State-of-the-art cooling system: 800 tons of refrigeration and 84 miles of underground piping use a brine-and-ammonia mix to allow skating even when temperatures near 50 degrees.

--Source: City of Roseville

Author: STEVE SCOTT, Pioneer Press

2004 St. Paul Pioneer Press and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.