Price tag on work drops to $150,000 from original $500,000 |

Price tag on work drops to $150,000 from original $500,000

Scott N. Miller

“Government projects” and “spiraling costs” are often found in the same sentence. “Government projects” and “Backing away from the brink of checkbook overload” are not.

Vail officials have stepped back from a potentially budget-busting plan to improve fire safety at Dobson Ice Arena, instead settling on a plan that will accomplish the same goals at about one-third the cost.

The need for renovations to the 1970s-era arena came after an independent fire safety audit determined that in the event of a fire, the arena could not safely evacuate a sold-out crowd of about 3,000 people. In the wake of the audit, the official capacity of the arena dropped to about 1,500, and then only if off-duty firefighters and police officers were on hand to help with any possible evacuations.

“It had become a major life-safety issue,” Vail Fire Chief John Gulick said.

The new, lower capacity was an event-killer, since promoters could no longer bring in acts that would draw 3,000-person crowds. Such events are crucial to the facility’s operation.

“We make more money from special events than just ice time,” said Dennis Stein, Vail Recreation District director, which operates the arena.

The main safety issue was keeping smoke 10 feet off the arena floor until a full audience had time to get out. The town hired Odell Architects, an Evergreen-based firm that specializes in sports facilities, to design a system to do that.

In April, Odell officials informed the town that the price tag of its fix was rising rapidly, and could exceed $500,000. That’s when a handful of town employees started thinking about the problem, and came up with a less-expensive solution.

Eventually, building inspector Charlie Davis, fire marshal Mike McGee and public works supervisor Greg Hall and construction projects manager Todd Oppenheimer found a different solution: getting people out faster in the event of a fire.

Gulick said the new solution involves relatively minimal expense: widening the center aisles in the bleachers, widening existing doors and putting a new exit and stairs on the north side of the building.

“It interesting ” the original plans for Dobson show an exit on the north side, and it never got built,” Gulick said.

In addition to the new, wider doors, the plan also calls for ceiling sprinkler heads that spray up as well as down, in order to protect exposed wooden beams.

The new, simpler solution has another advantage: Stein said local skaters might not lose any ice time during the work.

Work on the renovations should start within the next several weeks, Vail Town Manager Stan Zemler said.

“We want to get started as soon as possible,” he said.

Expensive solution:

– Two 4,000-pound fans on the arena roof

– Louvered air vents carved into the concrete walls

– Automatically-opening doors

– Generator backup for the doors

– Price: $500,000 or more

Less-expensive solution:

– Wider exit doors at existing access points

– New emergency exit on the north side of the building

– New sprinkler heads in the ceiling

– Price: Around $150,00

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