Building Trades volunteers build an "ice design" in Rice Park

(by John See, Labor Education Service, U of MN) Members of several Building Trades unions built an ice castle in St. Paul’s Rice Park last weekend. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to call  it an “ice design,” said Tom McCarthy, President of the St Paul Building Trades. “That’s what happens when the grand plan for an Ice Castle has to be scaled back due to, well, a lack of ice.”

The recent warm weather prevented Lake Phalen from freezing to the proper specifications needed for a large ice harvest. The original  plan called for 1500 blocks, 40 inches by 20 inches by 10 inches, each weighing 270 pounds. Instead, 400 blocks had to be purchased from from a provider in Shakopee.

Last Saturday, volunteers from several St. Paul Building Trades affiliates began arranging and stacking the blocks adjacent to the fountain in Rice Park in downtown St. Paul. Members of several trades were involved, including Bricklayers Local 1-MIronworkers Local 512, Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 34, Roofers Local 96, Operating Engineers Local 49, and Electricians Local 110. Once the blocks were in place, they cemented them together with water soakers- the handheld kind usually used in warmer weather at the lake or in the backyard.  Colored lights were added for nighttime effect.

Photo of ice wall in Rice Park“Beyond the good work we do on the job, Building Trades members are all about building and growing the communities we live in. It’s important that we take part in efforts like these, to give back to St. Paul by using our skills to create this beautiful ice design for everybody to enjoy,” said Don Mullin, Executive Secretary of the St.Paul Building Trades.

The project was part of the St.Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation Winter Carnival. Equipment was donated by Semple Contractors and Zeigler Construction. 

Workers on ice wall in Rice Park

This structure is serving as a kind of training camp for a massive ice castle being planned as part the 2018 Super Bowl events being held around the Twin Cities. 30,000-40,000 blocks of ice will be needed, so the harvest will be started in 2017 to gather about half the blocks which will be put storage.  It will be designed to look like some of the thirty-six ice castles built in St.Paul, beginning in 1886. (Those can be seen in a recent article by MPR News.)  


Hopefully it will be cold enough to cut the blocks from Lake Phalen.  

Ice wall in front of Landmark Rice park


“The Building Trades appreciates the opportunity to work with organizations in our community to use our skills- and flexibility- to create something for everybody to enjoy,” said Tom McCarthy from the St Paul Building Trades. “That’s what we do.”


The ice design will continue through this weekend. There is a $1 entry fee.

John See works at the Labor Education Service, University of Minnesota.