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Choreographed Conversion

Keeping ice indoors is no easy task, especially when a venue like the BOK Center is constantly transitioning from events like hockey and basketball to concerts and monster trucks.

John Tranchina
Marc Rains
October 29, 2017

There are a lot of logistical issues that go into maintaining a premium arena such as the BOK Center. Having different events such as concerts and basketball games mixed in with frequent hockey games can cause challenges, but the crew handles the busy schedule smoothly, thanks to years of experience.

Perhaps the most daunting aspect of the arena’s busy schedule is the process of putting in the ice for the hockey rink utilized by the building’s regular tenants, the Tulsa Oilers, and then transforming the building into a first-class concert hall for various musical acts, and then going back to a hockey rink again, sometimes all within the span of a day.

Kevin Jones is the BOK Center’s operations manager and has supervised the conversion hundreds of times. With an experienced group of employees that total about 20-25 during the busiest part of the changeover, they have the process down to a science.

“We got a real professional crew,” Jones says. “They’ve been doing it for a long time. We have a full staff of 12. Some of them are part-time, but we use temp labor for the rest of the breakdown process. And between all of them, we get in there and get it done.”

The key to keeping the ice cold is the refrigeration compressor system of cooling pipes built into the concrete floor. When it came time to install the ice for the first time this fall, following a WWE wrestling event Oct. 7, the staff got to work to prepare for hockey season.

The first thing they did was, of course, dismantle the wrestling ring and remove all the seating from the floor of the arena. Then they got the ice rink boards out of storage and installed them, although a lot of the pieces were already in place, just covered up. The glass partitions on top of the boards were also put up. The crew meticulously cleaned the cement floor to make sure no little pieces of debris or garbage could interfere with the making of the ice.

The process of converting the BOK Center ice surface to one ready for a concert takes about eight hours. (Photo: Marc Rains)
The process of converting the BOK Center ice surface to one ready for a concert takes about eight hours. (Photo: Marc Rains)

By the next day, Oct. 8, they were ready to turn on the compressor and ran it for 24 hours in order to get the temperature of the cement floor down to about 16-18 degrees Fahrenheit. Once that was achieved, Oct. 9, they could begin “building” the ice.

At that point, they “seal” the cement with a thin coating of water, just enough to cover the cement. Once that freezes, Jones and his employees spray paint the entire ice surface white. Due to the cold temperature, the paint dries in 2-5 minutes. Once the entire surface is white (and dry), they paint on the blue lines, red lines and all the other hockey rink markings. They also put in place pre-printed advertising spots or paint them, if necessary.

After that, they spray on another layer of water for about 24-36 hours, which ends up putting an additional three-quarters of an inch of ice down.

The ice surface was finally ready for action Oct. 11, but before the Oilers’ season opener Oct. 13, the BOK Center first hosted Jason Aldean Oct. 12, in his first concert since the tragic Las Vegas shooting.

That required Jones and his staff to execute their first changeover of the season, going from the hockey rink to a concert configuration and back again. Basically, the glass comes out, the ice gets covered up and the concert stage gets built on top of it while all the floor seats are set up.

In this case, that process began Oct. 11, but it usually starts immediately after the previous hockey game is over. The first thing that happens is the zamboni “dry-cuts” the ice. Usually, the zamboni lays down a fresh coat of water on top of the ice before games and in between game periods, to freshen the ice surface, but in this case, it just scrapes the loose snow shavings off and doesn’t put down any water.

Then the crew lays down the covering on top of the ice.

“The ice cover is made of a plastic and fiberglass, I’d say maybe about an inch thick,” Jones says. “The entire length of the ice, we have it pre-cut into the way the rink is designed. It’s like a puzzle, about 500 pieces. Some of them are different sizes because the corners are shorter. That takes about an hour-and-a-half to two hours.”

With an experienced group of employees that total about 20-25 during the busiest part of the changeover, the BOK Center's staff has the process down to a science. (Photo: Marc Rains)
With an experienced group of employees that total about 20-25 during the busiest part of the changeover, the BOK Center's staff has the process down to a science. (Photo: Marc Rains)

At the same time, people are also taking out the glass and removing the penalty boxes and team benches, where they then put in seats for the concert. Also, some of the boards on the west side of the arena will come out to accommodate the stage. The rest of the boards will remain in place, usually covered by black fabric.

“The last step, once we get that floor covered, get all the glass out, get all the boxes out, we build a stage for the concert,” Jones says. “Some shows bring their own stage. For example, Jason Aldean [used] our stage, so we have to build that stage. The standard is 60 [ feet] by 40, and 5 or 6 feet high. Now if we had a basketball game, it would be the same thing. Once we get the floor covered, we would set up the basketball court on top of the ice cover.”

The entire process takes about eight hours. And during the concert, the ice remains cold underneath the floor.

“The compressor is running 24/7 when the ice is down, and it keeps the floor cold,” Jones says. “The [floor] temperature will go up to about 22-26 degrees. That keeps the ice cover from sweating, from humidity getting in there. The building’s air conditioner will be running, staying at about 72 degrees, and that helps with maintaining the coolness of the floor.”

Once the concert is over, the process goes in reverse to get ready for hockey again, and once again takes about eight hours.

They will then just go back and forth between the hockey configuration and covering it up for whatever events come in. The only time during the Oilers’ season, which runs until early April 2018, or later if they make the playoffs, that Jones and crew will have to take the ice out completely is Jan. 2 when the Monster Jam comes to town.

For that monster truck show, they will actually not only take out the ice, but all the seats in the entire lower bowl of the arena. Then, afterward, they will put the seats back in place, rebuild the ice and carry on. Once hockey season is over, they will take out the ice for good for the summer until the next season starts.

It’s all part of the job for the busy crew at the BOK Center.