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Arena Changeovers: Ice Rinks into Basketball Courts and Beyond
Many arenas host an array of events under their rafters, from hockey to basketball. Read on to learn the secret behind converting a virtual tundra into a three-point line.
Sports arenas are versatile buildings, hosting everything from basketball games to lavish pop concerts. If you want to add hockey to the schedule, however, there’s an obvious obstacle: the massive sheet of ice used to keep the postgame beer kegs cold. Building an ice surface from scratch isn’t just a matter of turning on a hose and an air conditioner. At Raleigh’s PNC Arena, for instance, a solution of brine water—whose chemical structure prevents it from becoming solid even when it’s supercooled to 16 degrees Fahrenheit—flows through a 5-mile network of pipes embedded in the concrete, freezing the water that’s been spread on top. Nearly 10,000 gallons of water form the next several layers, after which the arena must keep a dozen dehumidifiers running just to keep the ice in proper condition.
Because creating ice is so time-consuming, many arenas have developed a shortcut: placing a new floor on top of the ice. Typically, a layer of 1-inch-thick mats protects the frozen surface and keeps condensation from warping the jigsaw puzzle of 4’x8’ slabs that make up the hardwood court. To convert the court back into an ice rink, crews simply whisk these pieces away. Others remove the bleachers and courtside seats to make room for dasher boards and plexiglass panels. A skilled crew of as many as 65 carpenters, electricians, and laborers can complete the transformation within two hours, working from when the final buzzer sounds to when the Zambonis hit the ice.
As changeovers go, all this is simple. For rodeos and motocross events, crews must lay a tarp and plywood over the mats before trucking in a million or more pounds of dirt. One of the most difficult conversions is for the circus, since the poles and tightropes must be secured directly to the concrete floor—making it impossible to preserve the ice. And the 2004 Republican National Convention gave Madison Square Garden’s crew a unique challenge: adding a whole new layer below the stage to accommodate an emergency bunker, a Secret Service command center, and—lest the president waste a future pardon on his own parking ticket—a space for the presidential limo.