Mike Martin, a professor in the Engineering Technology Department was recently appointed to the Wells Sports Complex Authority Board. This is the entity that oversees and manages the ice arena in Wells Township, just outside of Escanaba. At the time of his appointment to this board in March 2013, the arena had extremely high electricity costs and was having financial difficulties despite having one of the highest ice rental charges in the UP. Professor Martin investigated the refrigeration system (the largest consumer of electricity in the facility) and noted that the system was performing extremely inefficiently and was likely the cause of the high electricity bills. Professor Martin, enlisted the help of Professor Nick Griewahn, an NMU faculty member in the HVAC (heating, ventilation, & air conditioning) area of the Department of Technology and Applied Sciences. Nick visited the facility and concurred that the system was operating very inefficiently, most likely due to improperly operating control valves.
Professor Martin worked with various potential contractors over the summer of 2013 in an effort to resolve the issue. A number of issues complicated the upgrade, including continually leaking old rusted piping and the use of R-22 refrigerant which is being phased out and is becoming very expensive. In the end, Martin and the complex board decided to purchase a completely new refrigeration system with funds that had been raised during a significant local fundraising campaign.
The system was purchased from and installed by Everything Ice, a specialty contractor in the ice arena business. The installation was completed in October 2013, just in time for the hockey season. In the first full month of operation, the electricity usage dropped more than 55%, saving the complex over $5000 in electricity costs from the previous year. With these energy savings, coupled with reduced maintenance costs and an energy efficiency rebate from the state of Michigan, the complex board hopes to recoup the expense of the new system in just a few years. This will restore the financial stability of the sports complex and ensure its continued operation for many years to come.