Utilities weighs in with arena heating idea

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 27, 1999

Wednesday, October 27, 1999

The Mower County Board of Commissioners continues to confirm funding for the proposed new $4.1 million multipurpose building at the fairgrounds.

The project received more good news from Austin Utilities Tuesday, which has suggested making the facility a "geothermal" heated/cooled building at a huge energy savings.

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Dave Hillier, 3rd District Mower County Commissioner, told the county board Tuesday, the Austin City Council has finalized its $250,000 commitment to the project and also turned over a $50,000 Mighty Ducks grant from the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission. The building, proposed to contain two sheets of ice, is often referred to as an arena.

"The city council’s finance committee made it clear the money is targeted toward landscaping, the front entrance and generally an aesthetically pleasing appearance for the building," Hillier said.

Sometime next month, the commissioners expect to hear from the Austin City Council about a grant request for $350,000 made to the Hormel Foundation by the city on behalf of the county.

Prospects appear "good" for the request to be filled by the foundation.

The Hormel Foods Corporation contribution of $600,000 is firm as well as the company’s pledge to match up to $500,000 raised by the Austin Youth Hockey Association and Riverside Figure Skating Club.

The last public announcement from the AYHA was that $35,000 had been raised with an "energetic fund-raising effort underway," according to Brad Johnson.

That leaves the county’s own Mighty Ducks grant application (actually, two applications for $25,000 each) from the MASC to be decided during the 2000 legislative session.

Although approved a year ago, the grant monies were snipped from a $4-million spending bill on sports facilities at the last minute of the session by Governor Ventura.

The Austin Public Schools will be second only to the AYHA and RFSC as the prime user of the facility. Thus far, the only pledge from the district has been $250,000 in user fees.

Meanwhile, the county’s share remains $1.8 million.

A preferred site has been chosen at the fairgrounds in southwest Austin and soil borings are being taken to confirm the viability of the ground at the site to hold a 250 by 250-foot building and its two ice rinks.

Geothermal savings

The Mower County Board of Commissioners obviously believe in the cliche "build it and they will come."

They have committed $1.8 million into the new multipurpose building at the fairgrounds in southwest Austin.

They also believe, heat it with geothermal energy and people will stay and the project will pay.

Lana Isaacson, customer service director for Austin Utilities, made a presentation to the county board members on both how the geothermal energy can be used and how the utility’s Shared Savings Program will benefit the project in another way.

One of the criticisms of the old Riverside Arena, which the city of Austin is getting rid of at the county’s expense, is the huge utility bills that helped push the operating costs into the red by over $113,000 a month.

The city of Albert Lea had similar problems with an energy inefficient ice rink of its own. When it built a second ice rink and used the geothermal technology for heating the place, it saw its monthly energy costs plummet.

Isaacson predicted the same can be true for the Mower County project.

According to the Austin Utilities representative, the Shared Savings Program is a business partnership that has the utility identifying, implementing and financing the heating/cooling system for the new fairgrounds building.

The utility will provide project management for installation of the new equipment and pay for initial costs of the equipment without any capital investment from the county.

Then, the county would "repay" the utility from energy savings over the next several years.

Isaacson said the program will reduce the county’s operating costs annually and after the five years of energy savings, the continued energy savings all belongs to Mower County.

"We have a stake in this, too," Isaacson said. "because we also have a stake in energy efficiency."

Dave Hillier, 3rd District Mower County Commissioner, and chair of the board’s building committee, said, "I’m very impressed." He directed Craig Oscarson, county coordinator, to forward information supplied by Isaacson to the architects working on the new multipurpose building’s design.