Arena is leaner, greener than most

Ron Kirk will be in the building on opening night, oohing and ahhing with 7,000 other people as the UMD Bulldogs christen Amsoil Arena with a hockey game against the University of North Dakota.

Amsoil Arena: Lobby lighting
The ceiling in the Amsoil Arena ticket lobby features an array of suspended blue globe lights. The long-lasting LED lights cut down on replacement costs and promise a 50 percent energy reduction. (Bob King /

Ron Kirk will be in the building on opening night, oohing and ahhing with 7,000 other people as the UMD Bulldogs christen Amsoil Arena with a hockey game against the University of North Dakota.

Kirk will be just as excited as the rest of us, to be sure, but forgive him if he's more jazzed about the building's ventilation system than the new scoreboard. Or if he spends more time talking about heat pumps than shots on goal. Or if he notices the lobby's LED lights and not the red goal light behind the net.

Kirk, a Twin Cities architect, was officially the "owner's representative" on the arena's construction project. But he was also the enforcer for the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center's decree that the new arena be the greenest hockey hall in the nation.

They may have come close.

Amsoil Arena is expected to be only the third LEED-certified hockey arena in the nation, following the Showare Center in Kent, Wash., and the new Consol Energy Center, home of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins. LEED -- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design -- developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, is the nationally accepted standard for the design, construction and operation of energy-saving and environmentally friendly buildings.


If all the systems work as expected, the new building will use 60 percent less energy than if builders had simply complied with state energy efficiency standards instead of exceeding them.

For Kirk, it's his last big project and among those he's most proud of. He's retiring the day the arena opens.

"How lucky can one person be, to end their career by being a part of an amazing building project that will not only provide a top-of-the-class hockey experience for decades to come ... but to do so with energy-efficiency measures?" Kirk said. Those measures will save enough energy to heat and power 100 homes, he said.

What Kirk sees in the arena, and what we probably won't notice, includes:

* Heat for the new arena literally used to go up in steam. The arena, which is connected to the nearby Duluth Steam Plant, uses excess waste heat that formerly escaped out of the plant's smokestack. That arrangement vastly reduces the arena's need for electricity or fossil fuels and reduces new pollution, including carbon emissions.

* The pumps and fans that move air into and out of the arena run at variable speeds, so only the heat and cold actually needed are used.

* A heat exchanger will suck energy out of exhaust air exiting the building and use it to create heat to pre-warm fresh air coming into the building, saving even more energy.

* Censors around the building will be able to tell how many people are in the house. If it's a sparsely attended UMD practice, or a packed house against North Dakota, the censors (including those keeping track of how much carbon dioxide the people emit) can adjust heat and fan use to keep indoor air perfect without wasting energy.


* LED lights are used across the building, especially in the main lobby and in the giant Amsoil sign on the outside. The lights not only last for years, reducing replacement costs, but cut energy use by more than half.

* Most of the construction materials were made from recycled material, and 75 percent came from within 500 miles, considered more sustainable with less transportation energy used, while 95 percent of the waste from the construction process was recycled, not buried in landfills.

Dan Russell, DECC executive director, said energy conservation and sustainability were "built into everything we did" while planning and designing the building. Even the benches around the building, and much of the artwork, are made from reclaimed wood. The glass windows that look brilliant in sunlight insulate so well that they help cut heating and cooling costs and will pay for themselves in less than four years through energy savings over standard glass, Russell noted.

The energy conservation ethic includes little steps, like providing ice buckets instead of refrigerators in the luxury suites so Duluth's upper-crust fans can keep their beverages cold without contributing to carbon emissions.

"Refrigerators, even little ones, are just energy pigs. And why keep them running 24/7/365 to keep a few beers cold a few nights each year?" Russell said, adding that each suite also has a dedicated place for fans to easily recycle their cans and bottles.

Recycling options will be available across the arena as well.

A sustainability and energy conservation ethic was behind much bigger aspects of the arena, such as locating the giant ice refrigeration machinery in the middle of the building, just a few feet out of sight and under the seats. That means less energy is needed to pump the refrigerant under the 200-foot length of the rink. The pipes and pumps are double the required size, reducing energy use even more.

"No other arena would use this space" for the ice refrigeration machines, Russell said, noting the spot usually would go to offices or locker rooms. "The engineers told us this is the perfect place for it, to cut energy costs, but we were the first ones ever to say yes."

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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