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Shea's to get a cool Aud gift 10 ice tanks to keep theater comfortable

A mother lode of air-conditioning equipment from the mothballed Memorial Auditorium will give an encore performance at Shea's Performing Arts Center.

Ten large "ice tanks" from the old Aud are being moved to Shea's as part of a $1.5 million overhaul of the landmark theater's heating and cooling system. The recycling effort is expected to save Shea's as much as $100,000.

"This is a significant opportunity, and we are extremely grateful to the City of Buffalo for letting us reuse this equipment," said Shea's President Anthony Conte.

The cylindrical, stainless steel tanks were part of a system that used air blown over an icy slush to maintain chilly conditions at ice level during hockey season and keep event-goers cool during warm-weather seasons.

Installed in the Aud in 1993, just three years before the new HSBC Arena put the old sports complex out of business, the tanks are in near-new condition and compatible with Shea's air-conditioning system.

"They're going from one city-owned building to another, so it's a great way to reduce costs for Shea's and make use of something that's just sitting there," said acting Public Works Commissioner Daniel Kreuz.

The tanks, which stand 12 feet tall and are 10 feet in diameter, are being moved out of the Aud a few at a time and relocated to Quackenbush Co. in Cheektowaga, where a custom "cradle" is being fabricated. Later this month, they will be brought back to downtown Buffalo and hoisted four stories onto Shea's roof.

"This is going to be quite dramatic to watch," Conte said. "It's going to happen during the week, so it could draw quite a crowd."

But the Shea's chief said the real applause will come when the upgraded and expanded heating and cooling system is fully operational next summer. The goal is to have the cool conversion complete in time for the opening of "Wicked," the Broadway smash-hit musical that will run from June 18 through July 13, 2008.

"We have very inadequate air-conditioning right now. The comfort of our patrons is affected during warm periods in the fall and spring, so it is absolutely essential to have something better if we're going to be open in the summer," Conte said.

The Shea's president is so excited about the upcoming climate change that he has included details in recent playbills.

"Usually I write about the show, but this is a big deal. We wanted to let people know that comfort is coming," he said.

The low-tech ice tank system, which chills down overnight, when electric costs are low, and silently blows cool breezes as needed, is also a good fit in the theater, where sounds on stage can't be drowned out by the ventilation equipment.

Conte said more construction drama lies ahead, when a new air handler will arrive in small sections and be fed down an eight-foot by 10-foot shaft to the theater's subbasement for assembly.

"These things are the size of a small house, so there's no way we could get it in in one piece. It's going to be like a giant puzzle that will arrive in pieces on several trucks," he said.

Shea's 2007-08 calendar has been designed to accommodate breaks for the assembly process, which will involve punching a hole through an exterior wall on the Pearl Street side of the building.

The idea of moving the idle thermal tanks from the Aud to Shea's was germinated almost three years ago, as initial planning for the theater work began and waterfront planners were sizing up the Aud for conversion to a Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World store. First approved by former Mayor Anthony M. Masiello's administration, the idea gained additional traction as Mayor Byron W. Brown has called for the Aud to be razed as part of the Canal Side redevelopment project.

Charles Rosenow, executive director of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., the panel overseeing waterfront planning, said he's pleased to see Aud equipment find a useful life elsewhere.

"We want to move ahead on hazardous materials abatement in the Aud, so anything the city can salvage before our crews get in there is fine with us," Rosenow said.

A hazardous materials survey released last summer detailed thousands of potentially dangerous items -- ranging from PCB-laden light fixtures to barrels of chemicals, paints and solvents -- that will require special disposal before the Aud can be demolished. The tanks, which contain glycol-filled chilling tubes, would also fall into that group of hazardous items.

Calmac, the New Jersey-based manufacturer of the thermal cooling tanks, sent inspectors to Buffalo to look at the tanks and found them to be in excellent condition.

"There's a lot of mold and other bad stuff in the Aud, but the tanks are in great shape. They're basically just giant stainless steel ice markers, so they are as good as new," said Kreuz.


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