IRONWOOD - The new ice-making system at the Patrick O'Donnell Civic Center is allowing summer open skating for the first time.
Civic center manager Brian Roehm said Tuesday he hopes for a good turnout of skaters from Friday through July 4, a test period for the new system.
The new ice-making equipment was first used last fall and Roehm had no complaints about how it performed during the winter months.
"With kids being out of school, we're hoping for a good response. Word is getting out," Roehm said as workers prepared to flood the rink on Tuesday.
The rink needed to be flooded three times on Tuesday to build up an ice surface of one-half to three-quarters of an inch.
The surface of the rink dropped down to 17 degrees Tuesday morning through the new freon-cooled system. Roehm explained in simple terms that the old system was a water-cooled one, while the new one is air-cooled, allowing more efficiency and summer skating.
Before, water was shipped outside and then returned, but it didn't stay cool enough to allow for making summer ice.
While it would take two to three days to get the surface ready, now it's less than a day.
The test will be on a blistering hot day when the roof heats up.
The new ice-making also means the civic center rink will open around Sept. 1, compared to the old schedule of mid-October.
That will allow a junior hockey team, the Ironwood Fighting Yoopers, to play 24 home games at the center. The team, consisting of 15- to 21-year-olds, will play games on Fridays through Sundays and practice the rest of the week.
With Ironwood joining the junior league under coach Scott Kellett, there will be 15 or 17 teams.
Families in the Ironwood area will house Fighting Yoopers team members and it's possible some may attend Gogebic Community College.
"This is what the area needs to keep more kids involved in hockey. It's one step in the right direction," Roehm said.
In the future, Ironwood might host a Triple A team that would use the civic center and "make it pay to keep those compressors running," Roehm said.
Some day, GCC might even form a hockey team. Roehm said there's a national junior college tournament.
There's a great deal of support for both area hockey and the civic center, which is on the GCC campus, but is owned by the city of Ironwood.
The new ice-making project cost around $500,000.
The city commission approved a $275,000 bond for the project. It was estimated electrical savings under the new system will be around $12,000 annually.
Ironwood taxpayers support the center with a one mill per year levy that generates around $85,000.
The center is not only used for amateur skating, ice dancing and youth hockey organizations, but it also hosts one-day events like concerts, circuses, cage matches and home and trade shows.
The center received a big boost last year when Mark and Denise Stephens, of Bessemer, donated $150,000 to be used for a Zamboni ice and edging machine.
"The civic center and Polar Bear Hockey Club have given us tremendous joy and happiness over the years. We have met many great people within this organization. Our goal has always been to see kids enjoy ice, learn sportsmanship and grow into fine adults," Mark and Denise Stephens wrote in making the donation.
Summer skating hours at the civic center will be from 6 to 9 p.m. from Friday, June 27, through Sunday, June 29, and 1 to 4 p.m. from Monday, June 30, through Thursday, July 3.
On Friday, July 4, the hours will be 10 a.m. to noon.