Time to say goodbye to Bellevue Ice Rink for season

Taking a look behind-the-scenes of the Bellevue Ice Rink as the break-down process begins

By Claire Albright

UW Newslab

Most of Bellevue knows about the city’s holiday ice rink, but few know what goes into making it happen. There is an entire process of figuring out the most efficient structure, timing and stability of the rink itself, along with hiring the manager who runs it.

The Bellevue Ice Rink wrapped up its 23rd year on Jan. 20, after being open since the day after Thanksgiving.

The rink is just one of many winter events that people enjoyed in the greater King County area, but it is especially hard to miss as a Bellevue resident or passerby when it is located right in the heart of downtown. More than 90,000 people came through the ice rink this season, but not many Bellevue residents are aware of the steps that happen beforehand.

Rick Stinson, the manager of the rink, who moved his life here from Los Angeles to run everything for the last two months, has just finished his first year of managing. He is planning to leave Bellevue and head back home just one week after the closure of the rink.

Stinson is an expert on how the rink is built and how it runs effectively, even with so many people coming through. While the attendance can sometimes be unpredictable and uncontrollable — with some days having only seven or eight visitors and other days having 200 people come in all at once earlier in the day — the stability and structure of the rink can always be expected to run smoothly.

“The rink is built on top of the fountain,” Stinson said. “They drain the lake, clean it out, put down a three-foot-tall platform, place Styrofoam on top of that, and then some Visqueen. We have a chiller on one side that pumps glycol, or antifreeze, into tubes around the rink.”

The positioning of the rink was news to one Bellevue resident.

“I’ve lived in Bellevue for 17 years and have taken my two kids to the rink several times, but never realized that it was literally built on top of the fountain. I think it’s fascinating,” said Stacy Schwartz, a long-time resident of Bellevue.

Now that the holiday season has come to a close, the Bellevue Ice Rink is coming down.

“We come in and break it down. The parks department cleans it all up, puts the water back in, and it goes back to being the pond in the fountain at Bellevue Downtown Park,” said Mike Ogliore, the vice president of events and operations for the Bellevue Downtown Association. Other than putting the water back in, it also takes time to reverse everything that they had added in order to make the rink possible in the first place.

In the past, the process of taking the rink down and getting the park back to normal took a long time. They used to have about a dozen people come in with sledgehammers and break the ice apart, Ogliore said, but now, it is much more fast-paced and efficient.

“It typically takes two to two-and-a-half weeks to get the fountain back to normal, which is really advanced compared to before,” Ogliore said. “For the last three years, we were able to locate a heat pump that we connect to the tubes that allowed us to keep the rink frozen during the season. So, we hook up this heat pump and flow the water through there, which has really facilitated the timeline of getting that rink broken down and out of there.”

The Bellevue Ice Rink is referred to as a hot-spot during the holiday season, encouraging those who don’t live in Bellevue to try to make the trip at least once.

Ogliore is already looking ahead to plans for next year. Nothing is set in stone, but there are a few changes the residents of Bellevue may see.

Along with some potential structural changes, “we are considering making it a grander presentation piece, and possibly tweaking the calendar and the dates that the rink is open. For example, maybe opening the rink prior to Thanksgiving instead of the day after,” Ogliore said.

Organizers say the ice rink will be coming back for its 24th year.