BANGOR, Maine — Jon DiCentes’ office is only about 200 yards from the Bangor Auditorium’s main entrance, but he hasn’t taken in a single basketball game this week.
The senior project manager for Cianbro hasn’t had time to enjoy the electric atmosphere inside the 58-year-old structure during tournament week because he’s too busy. While fans are cheering on their favorite teams and family members, DiCentes is directing his construction crew’s ongoing efforts to build the auditorium’s replacement next door.
“We are right on schedule,” DiCentes said Friday afternoon. “We are still in superstructure mode primarily and we’re scheduled to be wrapped up on this around mid-May.
“What we’re gearing up for now is starting to prep for concrete slabs,” DiCentes explained. “Then we’ll start framing some of the outside structures and slowly close things in. We’ll start roofing after that.”
Construction began on the $65 million arena in September. Now that it is starting to take shape with steel framework, trusses, flooring and lights, it’s attracting attention from tourney-goers.
Peter Caristi, a Bangor Auditorium security supervisor for 21 years, notes the progress each day as he goes to and from work.
“I think for me, it’s more a sense of excitement as I see the improvements that are being made that will help get crowds of people in and out,” said Caristi, who works as a ticket manager during tournament week. “The seats will be much better and there will be many more ticket booths, as well as bathroom and concession facilities.”
That’s music to the ears of Terry Spurling, who played two games during the 1955-56 regular season in the auditorium and also during its first tournament week in 1956 as a key player for Ellsworth High School.
“Those bleachers don’t get any softer,” said Spurling, 72. “I’m looking forward to the new one, very much so.”
Spurling was at the auditorium Friday afternoon watching grandson Kyle Bouchard help lead the Houlton boys to an Eastern Maine Class C semifinal upset win over Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln.
Houlton’s 40-39 win wasn’t good news for Kane McKinnon, a Securitas security officer on Cianbro’s arena construction site who graduated from Mattanawcook Academy in 2009.
“I was hoping to see MA Saturday night after work,” said McKinnon, who played six tournament games in the auditorium as a member of the MA Lynx. “I’ll miss it, but I’ve talked to a few people about it and I think most people are looking forward to the new place.”
McKinnon remembers his first game on the auditorium floor.
“It was awesome. It was pretty nerve-wracking because it was the biggest crowd we’d ever played in front of,” he said. “All of us had butterflies.”
DiCentes is happy to be part of an effort that will produce a lot of butterflies and memories for several more generations of basketball fans.
“We’re satisfied with our progress,” DiCentes said. “We couldn’t have a better team, and by that I don’t mean just Cianbro. It’s the city, all the contractors. When it’s a well-oiled machine, it’s fun.”
The focus will soon turn to building the arena’s “envelope.”
“I think of a building as a human body and what you see now is the bones,” he said. “Then the skin will be the next part we put on.”
While there are only 40-50 workers on-site now, that number will at least triple this summer.
“There’s more concrete going up and we’re setting another truss every Monday,” said DiCentes. “Once all seven are up [there are two left to set], they’ll start putting the decking over the trusses and you’ll see the dome effect start taking shape with the big roof over the floor eventually.”
Once the arena’s “skin” is complete, crews will work to make it weather-tight and then all the “finish work” will begin inside, requiring 150-200 workers.
Spurling, who also played at the auditorium as a member of the University of Maine basketball team, is looking forward to playing in the new arena.
“I think it’s time to be replaced,” said Spurling. “The locker rooms aren’t very good — they’re not that big — and there have been problems with the heat and cold and the leaky roof for years.”
“They used to bring the buses out front and we’d have to walk way around the back and beat on that door. You’re standing there freezing until someone came to let you in.”
Like Spurling, Caristi is looking forward to the new arena’s debut in the fall of 2013, but he knows it will be bittersweet for many.
“For the people coming here for 50 years, it’ll be tough on them,” he said. “I’ve already had people ask me if they can buy a seat because they’ve been coming here so long.”