Two local companies donated materials and labor to fix one of St. Paul's most popular ice rinks after copper crooks damaged it in November.

The outdoor rink at Phalen Recreation Center opened this past weekend thanks to help from NAC Mechanical and Electrical Services and Mulcahy Co. Inc., both of Eagan. The companies swooped in after thieves stole more than 256 feet of copper piping from the rink in early November.

"It was an opportunity for us to give back to the community," said Lynn Bishop, president of NAC Mechanical and Electrical Services.

Bishop, who grew up in St. Paul and still lives in the east metro, said it was a no-brainer to donate his company's labor to fix the rink. The company has worked with the city's Parks and Recreation Department on several projects, including expansions at recreation centers and facilities at Como Zoo and Conservatory.

The city estimated that it would have cost about $20,000 to replace the copper pipes. As scrap, the stolen pipes were worth only a few hundred dollars.

Lynn said the labor and materials to repair the rink cost between $10,000 and $15,000.

"We knew that timeline-wise and budget-wise it would be really difficult" to make repairs, said Parks and Recreation spokesman Brad Meyer. "We're at the end of our fiscal year, so coming up with that $20,000 to $30,000 ... we were really going to feel the pinch, and we were going to have to patch some things together to make it work.

"For us, [the donation] was like a holiday gift."

The replacement parts are a non-copper, plastic-based composite material called Heat-link. The materials are of little to no value to scrap thieves, but will withstand Minnesota winters and permanently replace the copper. Mulcahy Co. donated the materials.

"It's always fun to give, especially at Christmastime," said Mark Gaetz, CEO of Mulcahy Co. "We knew Christmas vacation was coming up, and a lot of people were going to be using that ice rink."

The rink, at 1000 E. Wheelock Pkwy., is the city's third-most-popular outdoor rink. It attracts about 15,000 visitors a season and opened about two weeks behind schedule because of the theft and the recent snowstorm.

The city operates three refrigerated outdoor rinks -- at Phalen, North Dale Recreation Center and Palace Recreation Center -- and 20 outdoor, unrefrigerated rinks. Only the North Dale rink has exposed copper (before the rink is flooded), and Meyer said the city will consider whether Heat-link can replace copper at North Dale. Copper thieves also struck the Phalen rink in early 2012.

"It's good triumphing over evil," Gaetz said of the donated work.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib