SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Local youth ice hockey players may soon have a rink to call home.
Friends of Scarborough Hockey, a pending nonprofit, hopes to raise $5.5 million to build an ice arena to support school programs in Scarborough and surrounding communities struggling to get ice time.
The Town Council on Aug. 20 will consider a memorandum to move forward with the proposal to build an NHL-sized indoor hockey arena next to Scarborough High School.
With the closest rinks — in Saco, Portland and Gorham — already called home by private leagues from several cities and towns, backers of the Scarborough project said boys and girls teams in Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth and South Portland have lost priority.
Coach Norm Gagne said his Scarborough High School boys ice hockey team had an arrangement with Maine Hockey Group in Saco, but the team was unexpectedly shut out of its afternoon practice time slot in favor of the Junior Portland Pirates.
The boys then sometimes practiced at 5:30 a.m. (meaning buses would leave just after 4 a.m.), often having to cut their time short to make sure teams and the buses could get to school on time. Other times they would practice late in the evening.
“We’re looking for some consistency,” Gagne said. “It really takes a toll on the kids.”
Chuck Bradish, president of the Scarborough Boys Hockey Boosters, and Jeff Murray, president of the Scarborough Girls Hockey Boosters, first floated the idea of a rink to meet the needs of the town, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth.
“How hard could it be?” Bradish remembered thinking.
More than a year of development later, FOSH proposes a 37,000-square-foot arena where an existing high school staff parking lot sits adjacent to Gorham Road. The fenced lot next to the parking lot, formerly a water tower, is still owned by Portland Water District, but FOSH hopes a partnership with the town could turn the land into a parking lot.
Much like the University of Southern Maine’s rink in Gorham, FOSH’s 650-seat arena would have an entrance on the mezzanine seating level, with the rink sunken below. The proposal calls for 10 locker rooms to accommodate girls and boys, concession stands, office space, a conference and party room with behind-glass viewing, and a skate rental and sharpening center.
Bradish said FOSH plans to raise money for the arena entirely from private donors and businesses, an effort that is already beginning. He said the $5.5 million goal would cover construction and the first year of operations, and that the rink would likely only operate from September through April each year.
Josh Brainerd, general manager of Family Ice Center in Falmouth, applauded FOSH’s efforts and agreed that Scarborough needs ice time but warned about the uphill fundraising campaign ahead.
“I think the demand is large enough, but I’d want to see a lot of up-front commitment from groups that they’re going to deliver on the amount of rental hours purchased,” Brainerd said.
Although more convenient practice times would benefit students, Brainerd also advised the group to remember the importance of selling the early morning and late-night hours.
“Those bad hours put us over the top of being successful,” he said. “Any rink manager can sell 4 p.m. through 8:30 p.m. with their eyes closed, … but what separates each rink in terms of how well they do financially is, can you sell 5:30 a.m., 7:30 [a.m.]? Can you sell 10 p.m., 11 p.m.? The more ice that’s available, the harder it is.”
A new open-air ice rink for the Casco Bay Hockey Association also is in the works near Family Ice Center in Falmouth, a project the association has said it needs to grow its programs.
Despite provisions to limit competition, Brainerd has concerns.
“I just hope so many don’t pop up that it ends up hurting the rinks,” he said.
Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and Scarborough had plans for a joint rink at the Wainwright Recreation Complex in South Portland nearly a decade ago, but that fell through. Though fatigued by prior efforts, Bradish said boosters in both neighboring communities are supportive of the proposal.
He said they believe “If we build it, they will come.”
Gagne said ice hockey teams in Scarborough and neighboring towns have exploded in growth in recent years. In the middle school, particularly, there have been three teams and would soon be enough players to have a fourth, with more than enough for a separate girls team.
At the high school level, there are varsity and junior varsity boys teams, and one girls varsity team. Scarborough High School girls hockey won the state title last season.
Other founders of FOSH include Lee Allen, civil engineer at Northeast Civil Solutions; Mark Maroon, a local mortgage and finance executive; Chelsie Woods, president of a boutique public relations firm and communications director for the Southern Maine Youth Hockey Association, and Bob Jacques, a food broker at Harold W. Young Co. and longtime youth hockey coach.
Assuming a positive reception from the Town Council, and successful fundraising, Maroon said construction on the rink could begin next spring, and the rink could open as soon as winter 2015.