Vail’s "Bubble’ goes up again |

Vail’s "Bubble’ goes up again

Stephen Lloyd Wood
Vail Ice Dome BH 10-5/Mon Photos

Under brilliant blue autumn skies and with the sounds of generators and industrial-strength vacuum cleaners in the air, the Vail Ice Dome – commonly known as “The Bubble” – took on air for its fourth season Monday.

Nearly five dozen town employees worked most of the day unloading the 35-foot-high white inflatable structure from several trucks, unfolding it, rolling it out on sand already placed on the Vail Golf Course’s driving range, stretching it to its 27,000-square-foot frame and bolting it down.

If all went well, inflation was to begin by day’s end.

“Hard work’

“It’s hard work, and this is only the first day,” said Charlie Turnbull, street supervisor for the town Public Works Department. “We’ve still got two to three weeks to go with the refrigeration system.”

Monday was the biggest day anticipated this fall in terms of manpower. Turnbull counted up to three dozen employees from his department, nine more from the Vail Fire Department, and the rest coming from housing information services and other departments. He said the coming weeks involve setting the network of tubes that will freeze the ice for skating, as well as the boards around the rink itself.

The massive refrigeration system then will be “fired up” and begin freezing thin layers of water into a thick layer of ice. The lines for hockey are painted on the surface about midway through the process, Turnbull said.

“We’re just here to get it up and running and quickly and safely as we can so we can move onto Christmas decorations and get ready for snow removal,” Turnbull added.

Bubble finances

The cost of erecting the temporary ice rink, estimated at $190,000 this year, will come out of the town’s budgets for 2003 and 2004. The temporary structure – once likened to “a beached whale” – was purchased for $770,000 by the town in 2000 as a temporary place to skate while Dobson Ice Arena underwent extensive repairs to its refrigeration system. Since then, the Bubble’s place in the community has been controversial – even challenged in court by neighbors who said it was unsightly and would decrease local property values by hiding their “hallelujah view” of the Gore Range.

Louise Funk, member of the board of directors of the Vail Junior Hockey Association, said she bought about 15 pizzas and several cases of sodas Monday for the workers, who appeared very appreciative. After all, the valley’s junior hockey community is the primary user of the temporary ice rink – as well as a major user of Vail’s Dobson Arena – during the winter. As many as 60 teams are expected to compete in next month’s Vail Sportsmanship Tournament.

“To have a quality program, and to grow a quality program, you really need two sheets of ice,” said Funk, who has three kids of her own in the hockey program.

Bubble teamwork

Whatever the political situation, Vail Fire Chief John Gulick said his firefighters were glad to help set up the Bubble.

“We’re laying it out and building it all together,” Gulick said. “We work as a team, whether it’s putting out fires, containing hazardous spills or putting up the Bubble.”

Gulick likened the Bubble’s erection process to putting up a circus tent – without the elephants to do the heavy lifting.

“It doesn’t matter what the job is, we’ll do it,” said Gulick, pizza in hand. “We help each other.”

Bubble troublesome

By Stephen Lloyd Wood

The Vail Ice Dome’s return this winter appeared to be in jeopardy earlier this year.

Officials with the Vail Recreation District announced last spring they could no longer afford the cost to inflate and deflate the “Bubble” every year. Citing downvalley competition – namely from a new ice rink in Eagle operated by the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District – they insisted user numbers are dwindling and the demographics no longer support a second covered ice rink in Vail.

“The public doesn’t skate at the Bubble. There’s no amenities there,” Peter Cook, a district board member, told the Town Council last month. He added that the temporary rink had excess ice time last season and predicted its use will continue to decline as a new ice rink in Eagle comes on-line.

“It’s meant for overflow hockey,” he said.

Last spring, however, the Vail Junior Hockey Association – boasting of an enrollment of about 250 young hockey players – committed to assuming “stewardship role” and assuring the Bubble’s return. The organization attempted to raise enough money in private contributions to cover at least $100,000 of the Bubble’s installation expenses – but that funding never materialized.

Another effort by the association this summer aimed at convincing the town to install the Bubble downvalley in Avon or Edwards also deflated this summer, forcing a heated debate among members of the Vail Town Council and the Vail Recreation District last month.

Ultimately, the council decided to fund the expense of erecting the Bubble again in Vail – and tearing it down – for at least another season.

“I appreciate what the town’s done,” Louise Funk of hockey association said Monday. “We want our program to grow as Vail Junior Hockey, and that only can happen if it stays in Vail.”

Though it’s not involved this year with erecting the Bubble, the district remains charged with operating it. Cook said he expects that to be a money-losing operation this year to the tune of about $30,000.

Nino Licciardi, district chairman, said Monday he thinks the Bubble going up again “is great” and he’s “not lost much sleep” over it since the decision to do so was made.

“We told the town we’d operate it. We just can’t afford to build it,” Licciardi said.

Bubble history

– September 2000 – Vail purchases the temporary inflatable $770,000 ice rink cover as back-up for scheduling strains at Dobson Ice Arena.

– October 2000 – Seventy-six golf course neighbors appeal rezoning for the “Bubble,” but the Town Council denies the appeal and approves operating it on the Vail Golf Course’s driving range for two winters. Appellants then win a temporary injunction, halting installation. A judge lifts the injunction, binding the case over for trial.

– November and December 2000 – Installation is delayed by weather and litigation.

– January 2001 – Bubble opens for the first time, three months behind schedule.

– April 2001 – Bubble comes down for summer season.

– November 2001 – Bubble is back for second winter season.

– January 2002 – Judge rules the town of Vail failed to properly notify public of rezoning process, declaring the rezoning moot and ordering the Bubble be removed.

– April 2002 – Bubble comes down; two-season permit expires.

– November 2002 – Council changes conditional uses for golf course zoning district to include “seasonal structures.” Bubble set-up commences.

– December 2002, January 2003 – Vail Recreation District board members say bubble not cost-efficient, threaten to refuse paying for the annual set-up and break-down costs, estimated then at $120,000.

– April 2003 – Council considers selling the Bubble.

– September 2003 – Council allocates $190,OOO to pay for set-up and tear-down costs of the Bubble for the 2003-04 season.

– October 2003 – Vail employees begin erecting and inflating the Bubble for its fourth season.

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