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The proposal calls for an investment of at least $500,000 in new equipment and improvements at the skating complex in an effort to cut utility costs and make the facility more attractive to hockey players and recreational skaters in the city and throughout the region.

“Energy efficiency means a great deal,” said power authority President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Kessel, who visited the ice pavilion Thursday afternoon. “The ability to make this facility energy efficient through the use of new lighting, ventilation, ice-making systems is really an extraordinary thing because it allows the city of Niagara Falls to not only provide a first-class facility but also to save money.”

The ice pavilion is owned by the city and leased to private operators, Hyde Park Associates. The energy efficiency project will be financed by the city through a low-interest loan with the power authority. The deal calls for the principal and interest to be repaid with part of the annual savings on utility costs that are expected to be realized once new lights and more efficient equipment is in place. Officials from the city and the power authority estimate the proposed upgrades will yield an annual savings of at least $40,000. Officials said the actual annual savings may be higher as an energy audit of the building did not yet include the potential reduction in costs related to upgrades in freezing equipment for both ice surfaces.

The authority worked with the city and the city’s consultant, DiDonato Associates, on an energy audit of the ice complex, which includes two rinks, one built in 1970 and the other constructed in 1972. The walk-through identified several areas where improvements should be made. The improvement project, which is slated to start next spring, includes retrofitting and replacing lighting with more efficient fixtures, replacing two hot water tanks and the conversion to a single-point-of-use system with a high efficiency boiler to a heat water, heater and air handling upgrades to bring more fresh air in and heat the complex more efficiently, installing modern chilling equipment for both ice surfaces and sealing and weather-stripping throughout the complex. The entire project is expected to take about six months to complete.

Mayor Paul Dyster said the timing of the project announcement is significant as it should allow the city to better prepare for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Federation Championships, a tournament scheduled to come to Western New York at the end of 2010 and the early part of 2011. Dyster said that while tournament games will be played at other arenas in the region, including HSBC in Buffalo and Dwyer Arena at Niagara University, the Hyde Park Ice Pavilion and other smaller rinks throughout the area are expected to draw considerable attention as practice facilities during the event.

In addition, Dyster said the city is now working with the Niagara Falls Board of Education ,which he said has expressed an interest in using the new-look ice pavilion as a home rink for the high school team. The Falls high school team currently plays at the Pepsi Center in Amherst.

The energy audit of the ice rink is part of an ongoing review being conducted by the authority to identify energy efficiency upgrades for at least a dozen other city buildings, including City Hall, both library branch buildings, the Department of Public Works site and the Parks and Recreation building.

Kessel, whose agency is being sued by Niagara County and has been heavily criticized for its lack of responsive to community needs by state and federal officials representing Western New York, said the ice pavilion project is one example of the type of initiative residents living in the region can expect from his agency in the future. He noted the authority is planning to invest $1.4 billion as part of a plan to reduce energy consumption 45 percent at public and municipal buildings statewide by 2015.

Kessel is confident the power authority’s plans to invest in the development of solar and wind projects in Western New York will create jobs for residents in the region. He encouraged his critics to set politics aside and work with his agency to get done what needs to be done and that’s grow the local economy.

A trio of Democratic county lawmakers attended Thursday’s announcement, including Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso and legislators Renae Kimble and Jason Murgia. Both Kimble and Murgia supported last month’s decision by the county to take legal action against the authority in an effort to reverse the so-called “sweep” of $544 million of surplus authority funds into the state’s coffers.

Murgia accepted the mayor’s invitation to the event because he feels that is important for all parties to continue to work together on projects for the betterment of the community, despite differences of opinion on the handling of power authority resources.

“This is one small project in a long partnership with NYPA and the city of Niagara Falls,” Murgia said. “Hopefully, the city and the county can do much more collaborative efforts with NYPA. In the end, we’re all working for the people of Niagara County.”