It’s Not The Ice That Makes Skating Rinks White…

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UNION COUNTY — The Arthur L. Johnson hockey team can rest easy. The ice will be ready for them.

It took working into the early hours of the morning, criss-crossing the rink countless times, laying down 300 gallons of white paint and just as much water.

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But when the red and blue lines and the face-off circles were finally drawn, and the goalie boxes set, it was a sight to behold—the Warinanco ice skating rink was ready for its close-up.

While a fresh snowfall has that luxuriant downy white color to it, the same cannot be said of ice.  The reason skating rinks look the way they do is because in between layers of ice, there is a coat of white paint.

With Union County’s Warinanco Skating Center set to open Oct. 16, the staff had already begun sprucing up the facility, preparing skates, getting the fireplace ready.  And on a recent Friday night, the skating center staff and the painting contractors went to work.  It would be nearly 3 a.m. the following day when the last staffers would go home, knowing that the paint was fully protected under multiple layers of ice.

In addition to all the hours Warinanco is open to the public for recreational skating and lessons, hockey teams from five area high schools—Arthur L. Johnson in Clark, Cranford, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Summit and Westfield—consider the rink their home ice.

The rink, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year, began as an open air rink, like many of that era.  While a roof would be added in 1969, it still remained open to the elements, which is why the staff must wait until fall’s cooler temperatures and lower humidity to start making the ice, said Donna Hayden, the county’s rink manager.

The floor of the rink is six-inch thick concrete and through it are the pipes that chill it utilizing an ethylene glycol mix .  In order to prepare for the annual painting, water must be applied repeatedly until the ice is a quarter-inch thick, a process that took two days, Hayden said.

Then it’s time for the paint and the lines, which is when Jim Nafus, who remembers skating at Warinanco as a teenager when it first opened.   The county contracts with Naf’s Ice Paint to finish off the rink, which is one of about 30 that the Flanders company paints in the tri-state area.

“We use a unique paint,” Nafus said, explaining how fine powdered particles are combined with a liquid enhancer to get the look they want.

When the paint bonds, it’s more like small blocks laid next to each other  rather than layers. The result is that the paint is more tolerant of temperature fluctuations, he said.

To apply the 300 gallons of paint needed to cover the ice, Nafus drags a contraption that looks more like the siderails to a hospital bed. Fourteen nozzles spray the paint, and then the water coating to protect it.  And the paint dries so quickly that by the time he crosses the rink and returns, Nafus can walk on it.

But the ice painters are particular about the conditions they want and when the winds kicked up for a time and the temperature of the ice rose to nearly 20 degrees, they stopped working until the chiller could get the ice back down to 18 degrees.

“We want the surface to be between 16 to 18 degrees when we paint,”  Nafus said.

Once the paint was down, it was then time to apply the lines, which are actually a special type of paper that is sealed into the ice.

While Nafus’ crew was done around midnight, it would take the county staff another  2 ½ hours to lay down additional layers of ice to ensure the new paint was protected, Hayden said.

“We look to have about two inches of ice in the beginning because you get the warm weather—and the hockey teams chew it up.  But once it’s cold, we only need about  1 ¼ to 1 ½ inches of ice,” Hayden said.

The water  is applied 12 to 15 times until the ice is just the right thickness, she said, noting that each layer of ice is inspected, and problem spots scraped and cleaned, before the next layer is applied. By the time the ice has reached the desired thickness, an estimated 100,000 gallons will have been poured over the floor.

When it comes to skating, Warinanco has one of the highest rankings in the state for the quality of its skating surface. Last year, NJPowerRanking.com, which covers high school ice hockey, ranked Warinanco number two in its annual survey of the ice at rinks across the state.

PAINTED INTO A CORNER …could be a problem.  However, the special paint used to make the ice look white at Union County’s Warinanco Ice Skating rink dried so quickly that in the time it took to walk back and forth across the rink, the first coat had dried and the second coat could go on.  It required 300 gallons of paint to cover the rink, which is slated to open Oct. 16.

ROLLING OUT THE LINES…which are made with a special paper that is flattened onto the ice and then sprayed with water and ultimately covered by well over an inch of ice. It took crews working into the early hours of the morning to paint the ice and then draw the various lines required for hockey.  The rink, which is in Warinanco Park, is the home ice for

A GIANT COMPASS OF SORTS…is used to create the face-off circles on the ice at Union County’s Warinanco Ice Skating Center. The circles are made with a special paper that is flattened onto the ice and then sprayed with water and ultimately covered by well over an inch of ice. The rink is the home ice for Arthur L. Johnson, Cranford, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Summit and Westfield High Schools.


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