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With lawsuit resolved, Ralph's main rink to be rebuilt

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The Ralph Engelstad Arena's hunt for perfection continues.

Starting April 15, the main rink at the college hockey mecca in Grand Forks will be out of commission for about three months as crews replace the rink's concrete slab, which had been the focus of a lawsuit, to the specifications of NHL venues.

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"We're excited about the process," said Jody Hodgson, the arena's general manager. "We seek to provide a world-class playing surface and a world-class building for our programs."

The rink renovation is apparently the result of a confidential, out-of-court settlement between The Ralph and CIMCO, a Canada-based company that installed the arena's rinks and ice-making equipment.

The Ralph released an e-mail statement Tuesday saying that CIMCO will remove the current slab, which the arena had argued was built incorrectly, and reinstall a new one. The rink is expected to be back in service by mid-July.

Hodgson said summer hockey camps held at The Ralph will use the facility's Olympic-size rink during the main rink's renovation. The project caused The Ralph to host this weekend's Kem Shrine Circus on earlier dates than usual, he said, but preseason practices for UND's men's and women's hockey teams, held in September and October, won't be affected.

Tours of the arena will be suspended beginning Monday until the project is completed.

The Ralph's gift shop, ticket office and main lobby will remain open during the renovation, as will the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

The suit

The Ralph filed suit against CIMCO in October 2005 alleging that the rink's slab wasn't built as specified; the arena said it could make ice, but not efficiently. CIMCO argued that nothing was wrong with the rink and that the building's heating and cooling system could be adjusted to help make ice more efficiently.

Despite the allegations from the suit that was put to rest in September 2009, The Ralph now appears to have re-embraced CIMCO as, according to the arena's statement, "easily the largest and most experienced ice rink refrigeration company in the world."

The Ralph's statement lauds CIMCO as "the acclaimed industry leader in ice rink technologies," adding that the firm has installed 80 percent of the current NHL arenas and all the ice surfaces built for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.

Steel pipes

The ice in The Ralph sits on a slab of concrete. Embedded in the concrete are miles of 1-inch diameter pipes. Inside the pipes runs a coolant that chills the ice and the slab.

Currently, the pipes are plastic, but according to The Ralph's statement, the new pipes will be made of steel. CIMCO's Web site says steel transfers heat better, allowing the ice to be cooled more efficiently. NHL rinks are required to have steel piping, the site says.

While the suit was pending, The Ralph's attorney, Pat Morley, said the pipes were installed 4 inches apart, while the contract with CIMCO specified the separation at 3½ inches. The seemingly small disparity left the rink lacking miles of pipe, Morley said.

Morley also claimed the pipes and the surface of the rink were not level, another factor that made it difficult to get good ice.

Morley said that the ice-making system CIMCO installed cost The Ralph roughly $250,000 in extra electricity fees from the time the facility was completed in 2001 until 2009. An engineer estimated that during the next 21 years, if the system was not replaced, it would cost the arena $2.2 million, Morley said.

Morley said The Ralph's main rink and the Olympic-size rink both had efficiency problems but that the problem was worse on the main rink.

To resolve the dispute, The Ralph was requesting that CIMCO compensate the arena for extra electricity costs, pay $2 million to reinstall the slabs on both rinks and cover revenue lost during construction.

On Tuesday, Hodgson said the slab on the Olympic-size rink will not be replaced.

Citing a confidentiality agreement between The Ralph and CIMCO, Hodgson declined to give further details about the settlement and the upcoming construction. Hodgson said the statement released by The Ralph had been approved by CIMCO.

Messages left at the offices of Morley and CIMCO's attorney, Mark Hanson, were not returned Tuesday.

Reach Ingersoll at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to aingersoll@gfherald.com.

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