Children looking to lace up their skates for the first time this Christmas were met with large puddles instead of ice.

All across the south metro this holiday season, local communities have been working overtime to rebuild recreational ice and hockey rinks that had melted during a warm streak in December. Burnsville and Shakopee were able to get the rinks up and running just after New Year's Day, but for some cities that meant consistently flooding the areas day and night.

"Rinks are all dependent on Mother Nature. You get a few cold days like this and people expect you to have rinks [ready], but it doesn't work that way," said Dean Bisek, a Shakopee parks maintenance worker.

"It's obviously a process and it takes time."

In Shakopee, the public works department generally tries to get its 10 rinks — five free-skate and five hockey — open before Christmas to accommodate families who have kids home from school on winter break. The crew began laying the foundation for the rinks earlier than normal because of an unseasonably cold November, but had to stop short because temperatures swung back above 50 degrees.

When there's no frost on the ground, water will seep in instead of lying on the surface, said Public Works Director Bruce Loney. Luckily, he said, when warmer weather hit, the water they had already dumped stayed pooled on the surface, so their initial work wasn't for naught.

"It wasn't a wasted effort, but it just wasn't as productive," Loney said with a laugh. "Fifty-degree weather can really do a lot of damage."

Unlike some cities that manually dump water with a large hose attached to a fire hydrant, Shakopee uses a tanker truck to do the heavy lifting. And in the days before New Year's, it was working in overdrive.

Two shifts worked around the clock to build ice in Shakopee, but a higher priority was placed on the hockey rinks because they see higher traffic and they're located near warming stations, Loney said.

The tanker truck holds 2,000 gallons of water and a normal hockey rink requires about 20 loads or coats — around 40,000 gallons. Though the water bill may seem costly, the manpower and fuel for the job are the higher expenses for the city, said Maintenance Supervisor Bill Egan.

Water is pretty cheap, as the city pays only $2 per every 1,000 gallons, Egan said.

Shakopee rinks are built on one of three surfaces: crushed gravel, blacktop and grass. Each requires a different amount of water, but the process of building ice remains the same.

In the days leading up to New Year's, maintenance worker Bisek was working overtime to flood each of the city's rinks. The process starts when he fills up the tanker truck — which takes about nine minutes. Then Bisek heads to a rink and unloads the water evenly over the ice by driving the truck in a pattern almost like a Zamboni.

Small "feet," or sprayers, distribute the water while Bisek watches some lights on the dashboard that tell him how much has been emptied. The whole dumping process takes about five minutes.

Bisek then heads back to base, refills the tank and heads to a new location. It's a process that is largely out of the city's hands, he said — if the weather doesn't cooperate, there's nothing they can do.

"Mother Nature plays a big part in whether you have ice or not," he said.

To see a list of skate-ready locations, visit your city's website.

Liz Sawyer • 952-746-3282