Winnetka Park Ice Arena
Winnetka, IL

How do you remove a block of ice nearly nine-feet deep and 200 feet long by 85 feet wide — buried under a concrete slab? You call Ice Builders, one of the leading builders of ice rinks in the United States and one of the few ice rink specialty companies capable of engineering such a feat.

Winnetka Park Ice Arena, a city-owned ice rink, found itself with just this type of problem. "The rink was built in the early '70s as a place for the community to ice skate for a few months during the winter," said Tom Gullen, Director of Parks. "Demand for ice time grew to the point that the rink was opened all year long. It was never designed for year-round use."

Older rinks that were designed to be used for five or six months each year were designed to let the ground under the rink thaw during the remaining months. When these older rinks began operating continuously, the refrigeration system not only made ice to skate on, but also froze the ground under the rink. Over time, a column of ice — in Winnetka's case, nine feet deep at the center of the rink — developed under the concrete rink floors, forcing the floor to buckle upward.

Today's rinks are designed for year 'round use and incorporate an under-floor heating system to prevent ice from forming under the rink floor. "The center of our rink had risen more than six inches," said Gullen. "Not only was it difficult to skate on, the rink was literally beginning to destroy itself."

The solution took considerable planning and engineering. First, the concrete rink floor had to be demolished to gain access to the frozen soil below. Then came the arduous task of breaking up and removing the 5,000-ton block of solid frozen earth — all without damaging the surrounding building or the support cables that ran underground to keep the building's support beams from collapsing under heavy snow.

"You can't envision what an enormous task this is until you watch the process," said Gullen. "One thing I know is that you absolutely don't want to undertake a job like this without bringing in people who really know what they're doing."

The process was completed in less than three months. In excess of 9,000 tons of earth were removed and replaced, and more than 13 miles of piping was encapsulated in 550 tons of concrete to form the new ice rink floor. Now completed, one would never realize the magnitude of the work just performed to bring the rink back to life. The citizens of Winnetka will again be able to enjoy skating year 'round — but this time on perfect ice.

How it all began...

The task began with the demolition and removal of the existing concrete ice rink slab and refrigerant piping. To protect the facility from the tremendous volume of dust and soot from machinery, IceBuilders shrouded the entire building in plastic. Despite the size and power of the equipment required to break apart a block of ice six-feet deep and nearly 200 feet long by 85 feet wide, the process must be handled delicately to avoid damaging the building or surrounding areas.

After all of the frozen earth had been removed, IceBuilders carefully placed and compacted new sub-soil beginning with the support cables. Continual testing verified the correct compaction and ensured a stable base for the new rink. IceBuilders' care and attention to detail included taking the appropriate steps to protect the interior of the building during the construction process.

Covering the underfloor heating system are two layers of 2" rigid insulation board with vapor barrier. IceBuilders then carefully places spacers to hold the refrigeration piping in exactly the correct position and depth to make perfect ice. Rebar and wire mesh are tied in place in preparation for the new concrete floor to be placed. An IceBuilders-manufactured header can be seen running the width of the ice rink, ready to receive the refrigeration tubing.

More than 13 miles of tubing is placed in exacting position. Owners have the choice of steel pipe, stainless steel or polyethylene tubing. IceBuilders is one of world's most experienced companies with each type of tubing and can recommend the correct refrigeration system to meet the environmental and use demand of each individual ice rink facility.

One of the most critical elements of any ice rink is the refrigerated floor system. From the underfloor heating system to the concrete slab, IceBuilders integrates each component into a complete system. This ensures that the entire system operates in the most efficient and reliable manner. When you understand how many components are placed in and under the concrete (or sand) floor, you then understand how important it is to entrust your ice rink construction to a company that has a proven track record of honesty, integrity and quality.

IceBuilders' care and expertise has Winnetka up and running again and looking better than ever. With a new IceBuilders refrigeration system and arena accessories, the community is assured of having perfect ice to skate on-year 'round for many years to come.

"You can't envision what an enormous task this is until you watch the process. One thing I know is that you absolutely don't want to undertake a job like this without bringing in people who really know what they're doing. IceBuilders proved why they're the best."

 - Tom Gullen, Winnetka Director of Parks