Ice rink slated for decommissioning: Ammonia will be removed from cooling system of closed ice arena

Photo courtesy of Alex Delgado gone—The decommissioning of the Culver Ice Arena is scheduled to begin March 13, after months of negotiations between City Hall and rink owner Michael Karagozian. PIC Environmental is the firm hired for the decommission.

The end of an era has finally arrived. Decommissioning of the Culver Ice Arena is slated to begin Thursday, March 13 after months of negotiations between City Hall and Michael Karagozian, who owns the rink.

“The city approved the final closure plan prepared by PIC Environmental [on March 7] and confirmed that the work will start under the city’s supervision [on March 13],” Culver City Fire Chief Chris Seller wrote in a news release.

PIC Environmental is the firm hired by Karagozian for the ice rink decommission.

In the process of decommissioning, or taking out of service, an ice rink, the coolant in the refrigeration unit must be removed. The primary refrigerant in the Culver City ice rink is anhydrous ammonia.

Olympic skaters Randy Gardner and Tai Babilonia, as well as many Culver City families used the rink over five decades. Several residents protested its closing in late January, packing City Hall chambers to implore their city leaders to help them keep it open.

The decision to decommission the rink after it was officially closed in February brings an end to a series ofexchanges between Karagozian, the owners of a skating school that operated the arena and city officials that at times became caustic.

Shannon Takahashi, whose family ran the ice skating school, blasted municipal authorities at a Feb. 10 council meeting after she told them that she and Karagozian had worked out a short term lease at the site.

But city officials, concerned about the condition of the cooling system, intervened.

“It seems like the city doesn’t want ice skating anymore,” Takahashi said.

A report compiled by City Hall indicated that Karagozian had been largely uncooperative in their dealings with him about his property. Through his attorney, he in turn accused the city of unfair treatment.

Aubrey Hellofs, who worked at the arena from 1965 to 1978, has fond memories of the ice rink.

Hellofs is sorry to see the rink decommissioned and thinks the city should have done more to save it, despite the fact that it is owned by Karagozian. “There were never any problems with the compressornever any leaks,” he said.

Two companies hired by the city to review the refrigeration system said it would require extensive repairs in order to function as an operational rink properly. Another firm hired by the Takahashi family conducted its own review and reported that it was in working order.

Culver City authorities were concerned after they stated that Karagozian or the former operator of the rink, John Jackson, initially refused to take responsibility for its decommissioning after the rink was closed. If the ice rink had been improperly shut down, the ammonia could have been released into the community, posing a potential health hazard.

There are residential neighborhoods within a block of the arena.

“The current ammonia refrigeration system constitutes an imminent hazard to any occupants within the building and to the neighboring community,” wrote Michael Dillon of Dillon Consulting Engineers of Long Beach, which the city hired recently to advise them.

“The only two viable options for mitigating the risks associated with this system are either its immediate shutdown and decommissioning along with removal and proper disposal of the ammonia in the system and its associated equipment and piping,” the consultant continued. “Or the immediate shutdown of the system and removal of the ammonia preparatory to and in conjunction with a complete overhaul and upgrade of the system to bring it and the machinery into compliance with current codes and standards.”

City Manager John Nachbar said city personnel will be on hand at the decommissioning “but only to supervise” it.

Ice rink slated for decommissioning: Ammonia will be removed from cooling system of closed ice arena