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McKendree University needed new ice rinks in a hurry.

The McKendree Metro Rec Plex’s Eco Chill system recaptures waste heat from the compression cycle used to keep the facility’s two NHL-size rinks frozen.

The St. Louis area school’s ice hockey team had been using a two-rink facility in Fairview Heights, Illinois, until a depression caused by the collapse of an old coal mine tunnel caused the facility to be shut down. With the loss of that building, both the school and about 250 young athletes in the Southern Illinois IceHawks youth hockey association were left without a hockey home.

So when the school contacted developer Dean Oelze about creating the McKendree Metro Rec Plex, a new multi-use recreational facility in nearby O’Fallon, Illinois, he knew he needed a project plan that would have the building completed as quickly as possible. And with large potential energy demands for a building that would include two ice rinks as well as two pools, the business plan for the facility also had ambitious efficiency goals.

To achieve that level of efficiency in a short timeframe, the building used a state-of-the-art Eco Chill heat-reclamation system combined with propane-fueled rooftop units for heating targeted zones within the building.

“If you’re looking at ice rinks and pools as well, you’re going to be looking at a significant demand on energy,” Oelze says. “To be able to move forward with a project, we certainly had to answer that question as to how we’re going to be as efficient as possible.”

From ice to heat

Recaptured heat is circulated through a glycol loop to provide heating for the building and two pools — a recreation pool and a 10-lane competition pool.

The Eco Chill system, relatively common in Canada, is fairly rare in the United States because few facilities combine the heating needs of pools with the heat generated by ice rinks. The system reclaims the byproduct heat generated from the compression cycle used to keep the ice frozen. Instead of letting that heat dissipate into the atmosphere, the heat is transferred into a geothermal piping system that pumps heated glycol into different parts of the facility. The heat energy is used to heat the building’s two pools and for some of the building’s general space heating.

While that reclaimed-heat system is extremely efficient, it doesn’t provide enough heat in areas that must be brought to temperature quickly, Oelze says. “It doesn’t have the intensity level that you’d get from propane,” he explains. “For those smaller rooms that people would be coming and going rather quickly, we needed something that would have a much quicker reaction time.”

For instance, the facility offers group fitness classes for members. “When 30 people come into a room, you want that room to feel comfortable when they walk in,” Oelze says. “And then of course when they leave, it’s going to affect the temperature rather quickly. And so propane is a great way to bring that heat up in a very short timeframe.” Sophisticated building controls made it simple to meld the Eco Chill and propane roof top unit heating systems under one roof.

By using propane for the building’s supplemental RTU heating systems, developer Dean Oelze avoided the chance for weeks or months of delays waiting for natural gas lines.

The Rec Plex is the first building in what will be a 45-acre development. Oelze plans to eventually bring in natural gas to serve the community, but with the construction schedule so tight, he didn’t want to risk delaying the project by waiting for natural gas lines. “Because of propane’s flexibility — by just simply being able to bring in and bury a tank — we could do something in a day which would’ve taken weeks to months. So there is a significant advantage to doing it that way, depending on your timeframe for getting your energy in place,” he says.

Between the pools and the gym facilities, which include a half-court gymnasium, a walking track, and a cardio deck, the Rec Plex creates quite a bit of laundry. The building’s propane-fueled clothes dryers provide fast, energy-efficient drying for speedy laundry cycles. The facility’s ice resurfacers also use propane as a clean-burning source of fuel.

While the project’s cutting-edge heating systems provide both environmental benefits and cost savings, Oelze is most proud of the fact that he was able to get the community’s youth and college hockey players back on the ice as quickly as possible. In part because of the flexibility of propane, provided by Wade Sales and Service, the overall construction was completed within a 12-month timeframe from the start of the footings to occupancy of the building. “I think that a lot of things got accomplished in a very short timeframe,” Oelze says.