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Corner Brook gets OK to keep civic centre open

Two members of the Corner Brook Fire Department's hazmat team are seen inside the ice plant at the Corner Brook Civic Centre on Thursday morning.
Two members of the Corner Brook Fire Department's hazmat team are seen inside the ice plant at the Corner Brook Civic Centre in this Western Star file photo
CORNER BROOK, N.L. —

It will be business as usual at the Corner Brook Civic Centre over the weekend with minor hockey on the rinks, carnival chili cook-off in the studio and a craft fair in the main meetings rooms.

At mid-afternoon Friday, Mayor Jim Parsons had some concern the centre may have to be shut down, just as it was Thursday night when there was an ammonia leak in the ice plant.

The gas used in making ice can cause serious injuries and death, depending on the concentrations that people are exposed to. 

Parsons said while everything appeared to be OK at the centre, Service NL wanted to conduct its own investigation.

That happened later in the afternoon and everything was determined to be in order.

Parsons said a representative from Cimco, the refrigeration company that maintains the system, also came in to check things out.

Before the all clear was given, Parsons said the dilemma the city faced was trying to keep the ice on at the centre.

“We don’t want to lose the ice that’s on … the more you use it, you flood it and clean it, you’re going to lose it faster.”

If the city kept the centre open, the ice plant would have to be shutdown.

If it closed then today’s activities would have to be relocated.

Parsons said some rentals were cancelled for Friday evening.

What happened

A valve assembly in the ammonia system sprung a leak, causing an alarm in the mechanical room to go off at around 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

The leak could have started earlier in the day, but did not reach alarm threshold until later.

Mayor Jim Parsons said it’s not strange to sometimes have trace amounts of ammonia in the room.

When there is a minor problem, he said, staff are able to put on protective gear and go in to make repairs. But on Thursday the levels got particularly high.

Once the alarm sounded, the centre’s general manager went to investigate and contacted the Corner Brook Fire Department, which operates the hazmat team for the west coast.

The room is designed to contain leaks and no ammonia was detected in the main building.

However, with the possibility the situation could worsen, a decision was made to evacuate the building.

“There was no reason to rush or panic,” said Parsons

People there involved with figure skating and minor hockey and some walkers were verbally asked to leave the building.

The fire alarm was then activated to ensure everyone complied.

Parsons said the centre’s power engineers, under the care of the hazmat team, attempted to make some repairs but there was concern it couldn’t be done without exacerbating the leak.

With guidance from Fire and Emergency Services it was decided to let the leak out naturally. The main source had been cut and it was only what was in the system at the time.

Later in the evening the valve was plugged and slowly the level of ammonia in the room lowered.

Parsons said the system is set up such that when it reaches certain concentrations of ammonia it will enable a controlled venting into the atmosphere, and that system performed as it should.

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