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Resurrecting the dead: Officials hope epoxy puts bounce back in floor

Photo by Clay Schuldt Park and Recreation Facility Maintenance Supervisor Ryan Weier points out the location of the expansion joint on the current fieldhouse.

NEW ULM — Epoxy injections could be the solution for getting the Rec Center fieldhouse out of a pickle with pickleball players.

Last spring pickleball and tennis players who use the fieldhouse floor began noticing dead spots on the surface. These dead spots caused pickleball and tennis balls to not bounce as intended in normal play.

With the high number of concerns reported from users about the dead spots, Park and Recreation staff held a special meeting Thursday to address the reason for the dead spots and possible solutions.

Park and Recreation Facility Maintenance Supervisor Ryan Weier gave a detailed architectural history of the fieldhouse to explain the problem.

The Vogel Fieldhouse was originally built as an ice rink in 1981. The flooring was built from two types of concrete: cold concrete for the ice and regular concrete around the perimeter of the rink. An expansion joint separated the two types of concrete.

Photo by Clay Schuldt Park and Rec Staff holds an informational meeting pickleball and tennis players to address the issue of dead spots on the Vogel Fieldhouse floor.

In 2003, during the first Reinvest in New Ulm projects, the hockey rink was converted into a fieldhouse with a walking path and courts for basketball or tennis. A compact rubber floor manufactured by Mondo was installed over the two concrete floors and the expansion joint between the concrete.

Over time, the Mondo floor began to stretch and compress along the expansion joint, creating a slight ridge. Staff could not risk filling in the expansion joint because if no give existed between the two types of concrete, the shifting could cause breaks in other parts of the facility.

In 2021, the second round of RENU projects included placing a new Pulastic brand floor over the top of the 2003 Mondo floor.

Staff was aware that with the expansion joint from the 1981 surface still in place, the new surface likely still had a different floor density, but attempted to compensate with overlapping stainless steel plates over the joints.

What was not anticipated was the development of dead spots at random locations inside the court.

Weier said the density differences over the expansion joint are mostly located along the walking tract, but other dead spots have appeared in the court. He has attempted to find a pattern to the dead spots, but there is no consistency in location, size, or shape.

It is believed these dead spots are caused by voids beneath the new surface. These voids could have been formed by problems with the 2003 Mondo surface, or even with the 1981 concrete.

Weier said the voids causing the dead spot might only be space as thick as a credit card.

Park and Recreation staff have consulted with new floor manufacturers to determine possible solutions. One solution was to fill voids beneath the dead spots with epoxy.

Last spring, Weier tested the epoxy solution and it did seem to repair the dead spot.

He said the epoxy injections were not 100% perfect solutions to the dead spots but solved about 95% of the bounce problems.

Weier said the epoxy injections are relatively low-cost solutions and treating an individual dead spot is not overly time-consuming.

Some of the pickleball and tennis users asked if the manufacturers of the floor could be held liable for repairs. Director Tom Schmitz said the problem with the flooring was not related to the new surface, but the older surface it was built over. The flooring manufacturer could not be held liable for problems with the material it did not install.

To resolve all the density problems, the original 1981 concrete would need to be removed and replaced. Weier estimated that would cost $1.5 million. There was also additional liability for removing the concrete because the fieldhouse site was built on former swamp land.

Schmitz reminded the pickleball and tennis players that several user different user groups are utilizing the fieldhouse and other recreation facilities. It was not designed only for one group.

City Councilor Les Schultz attended the meeting and advised staff to develop short-term solutions for pickleball players. The sport is popular with many consistent players who use the fieldhouse courts.

Going forward he recommended finding new locations for pickleball, possibly renting out facilities elsewhere.

Staff will continue to treat fieldhouse dead spots with epoxy. Staff was unable to treat the dead spots during the summer due to limited staffing but is planning to train others to help fix them.

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