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How Special Ice Helps Transform Santa Clara’s Central Park into a Winter Wonderland

In what has become an annual tradition, Santa Clara is once again getting ready to put an ice rink in the middle of Central Park. On Nov. 21, the pop-up rink next to the Santa Clara Recreation Center will open to the public. But the work on the rink has already begun.

“The City of Santa Clara builds a sandbox; they compact the sandbox for us and give us a nice level surface to build the ice rink on,” said Dave Fies, Vice President of Special Ice. Special Ice has built the rink in Santa Clara since the beginning, five years ago.

“That’s how we start. We start with a level surface,” continued Fies. “Then we come out and we roll out some plastic tubes…these plastic tubes run from one end of the rink and then they loop and then they come back to the original side of the rink. It just makes one big loop…The tubes basically cover the entire sheet of ice.”


Once the tubes are laid out, they’re connected to a refrigeration unit that begins pumping antifreeze through the tubing. Special Ice takes care to use propylene glycol, a food grade antifreeze that’s environmentally safe.

“We chill that glycol to five degrees, it might leave the chiller at five degrees and by the time it gets all the way back, it’s lost coolant and it’s at about 12 degrees,” said Fies. “That flow of glycol going through the tubes is cold enough…that you just basically get out there with a hose and start flooding over the top of those tubes and since that liquid is so cold, it makes the tubes cold enough where it freezes the water that you’re spraying on top of it.”

The entire process takes about five days, with a few more days tacked on to bring in the rental skates and benches and set up the flooring and cash registers. Once the ice rink is up and running, it’s all about maintenance and handling whatever weather comes along.

“If it’s a really warm, sunny day, there might be a little wet spot here or there on the ice, but as soon as the sun sets, that tightens up real tight and good and you get really hard ice. For the most part, the ice has been in really good condition there in Santa Clara,” said Fies.

“What we have to prepare for mostly is the rain. If we get a warm rain, that actually starts melting the ice. Especially if it rains for a long period of time,” continued Fies. “We probably have to keep the ice about three to four inches [thick]. If we do get a nice warm rain [that] melts off an inch of ice on top, then we still have plenty of ice once we can get that water off to get back to the ice base; we still have enough ice to operate. So, we have to keep the ice a little bit thicker.”

Special Ice is also in charge of building the ice rink at Great America, as well as outdoor rinks in a number of other Bay Area cities.

The ice rink in Santa Clara’s Central Park will open on Nov. 21 and run through Jan. 20, 2020. For more information about pricing and hours, visit


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