One of St. Paul's most popular outdoor ice rinks was vandalized by copper thieves over the weekend and will cost about $25,000 to repair.

Thieves stole 64 copper pipes from the rink at the Phalen Recreation Center, 1000 E. Wheelock Pkwy., Parks and Recreation Department spokesman Brad Meyer said. Each pipe was 1 inch in diameter and 4 feet long.

The theft occurred sometime between Saturday night and Monday morning, police said.

Meyer said that park officials hope to repair the rink by late November, but that it may not be ready until mid-December. The Phalen Center rink is the city's third most popular outdoor rink, attracting about 15,000 visitors a season.

The pipes are used to transfer coolant around the rink to keep it refrigerated. They were cut out of rubber mats that were rolled out in the rink in late October to prepare it for flooding this month, Meyer said.

The city's three refrigerated outdoor rinks typically open to the public around Thanksgiving. The rest of the city's 20 outdoor rinks are not refrigerated and are ready when the weather becomes consistently cold, usually by mid-December.

The scrap value of the stolen copper is probably a few hundred dollars but would cost about $3,300 to replace, Meyer said.

The real cost of the theft is the hundreds of hours of manpower it will take to repair the rink, he said, pushing the cost up to $25,000.

Security cameras were not in use at the rink when the theft occurred, and there are no suspect descriptions.

Meyer said the city relies on field lights that typically shut off after a few hours for the sake of nearby homeowners.

The theft prompted city officials to install security cameras at the North Dale Recreation Center refrigerated outdoor rink, along with added police patrols.

The third refrigerated outdoor rink, at the Palace Recreation Center, is not at risk because its copper tubes and rubber mats are under concrete.

Meyer said the city is looking at copper alternatives for future use. Copper thieves struck the Phalen Center rink in early 2012 but got away with only a fraction of the copper because the ice was still frozen. Last December, thieves stole about $2,500 in copper wiring from the Holiday Lights in the Park display at Phalen Park.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708