April 19, 2019
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Safety, health issues at Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer disturb local coaches

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
The Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer

BREWER, Maine — The Brewer High School hockey team is among the state’s elite.

The Witches, 12-1 and leading the Eastern Maine Class B Heal Points standings, are 122-20-5 over their last 147 games. That includes two state Class B championships, three Eastern Maine B titles and two Class A semifinal berths.

But their 16-year-old home rink, Penobscot Ice Arena on Acme Road, strikes a raw nerve with local coaches every day, primarily because of continuing safety and health concerns.

“I’m very concerned about the arena from a safety aspect,” said Old Town High School hockey coach Brett Hale. “When you have 4-inch gaps in the boards, that’s a major concern for their safety.”

There is at least one pronounced V-shaped gap on the boards near the Zamboni room.

“Then you have the locker rooms,” added Hale. “We live in a community that is very concerned about staph infections and cleanliness and that facility is an absolute breeding ground.

“When we were there, there was feces on the floor. Both toilets were overflowing. And there wasn’t any hot water anywhere. The outlets didn’t work. The temperature inside was colder than it was outside. It’s reached the point where fans don’t want to go there and kids don’t want to play there.”

“It needs an overhaul,” agreed Orono High coach Greg Hirsch. “There were problems with the urinals, there was mold growing on the pipes leading into the locker room and there was mold on the walls. It’s freezing in the locker rooms. My 8-year-old son plays Mites and he doesn’t want to play there because it’s too cold. Families don’t want to watch their kids play because there’s no place to stay warm. You’ve got screws coming off the boards near the players’ benches.”

“It’s embarrassing,” said Hirsch, who also noted a concern over players contracting the staph infection MRSA.

Presque Isle coach Dr. Carl Flynn said the locker rooms have always been clean when he brings his Wildcats to the arena, “but there isn’t any heat in the locker rooms and the showers are ice cold. The toilets and sinks weren’t working. So you can’t wash your hands after going to the bathroom. It’s disgraceful in that way.”

“They have improved some things and let other things go,” said Flynn, who observed that the ice surface has been better in recent years.

“The things they’ve let go aren’t things the average fan would notice. It’s the behind-the-scenes stuff,” added Flynn, who said that his players complain about playing at the arena.

He insists on his players taking showers after the game and likened it to “a 6-year-old jumping through a sprinkler on a hot summer day.”

Allegations disturb owner

Roger Theriault, the Lewiston funeral home director who owns the rink, was disturbed by the allegations and said he wished the coaches had contacted him about their concerns so he could have addressed them.

“I understand their concerns. They’re legitimate ones,” said Theriault. “It’s not that I don’t care. I do. It’s a matter of getting the resources to take care of the issues. I don’t want to have to raise the [ice-time] rates.”

Randy Marsh, the first-year rink manager, said one of the problems is that some of the visiting teams, including teams at all levels, ransack the locker rooms.

“They’ll put hockey tape down the toilets [causing them to overflow],” said Marsh. “We spend a good part of the day just cleaning up after them.”

And Marsh is the only full-time employee. There are a couple of part-timers.

Sawyer Arena in Bangor has six to eight workers.

It should be noted that without Theriault, there might not be a rink at all and not having a third ice sheet to complement Sawyer Arena and the University of Maine’s Alfond Arena in Orono would certainly be
problematical for hockey players and figure skaters.

Theriault rescued the rink from foreclosure and an auction sale in 2001 as he and his Delta Hockey LLC assumed $870,000 in debt from mortgage holder Bangor Savings Bank.

Lou Janicki, Theriault’s brother-in-law, built the rink in 1996 and managed it for several years.

Theriault is quick to point out that unlike Sawyer Arena, which is owned by the city of Bangor, and Alfond Arena, which is owned by the University of Maine, Penobscot Ice Arena is privately owned and he simply doesn’t have the money to invest in a major overhaul.

However, he is trying to secure a loan in the vicinity of $25,000 to improve the four locker rooms by insulating them and installing heating units.

He also said if people in the community would be willing to contribute the labor, he could take that to the bank and possibly secure a loan in the $48,000 range. He would pay for all the materials.

He said the most consistent complaint he receives is about the cold air inside the facility.

“There’s not much I can do about that, but I’d like to try to make it more comfortable,” said Theriault. “We are going to make it more comfortable for the players.”

One possibility, he said, is to install portable coin-operated heating units that fans could use during games to heat their sections.

City sees code, money issues

Brewer City Manager Stephen Bost and Brewer fire inspector Ralph Cammack have heard their share of complaints about the facility.

Cammack and Code Enforcement Officer Ben Breadmore recently inspected the facility and issued a list of code violations that had to be addressed.

Cammack said they have to update the maintenance on the systems used to test the sprinkler and fire alarm systems, replace a lot of emergency lights, fix the latches on the exit doors, replace plumbing caps in the locker rooms and repair the electrical panels.

“Everything can be fixed relatively cheaply,” said Cammack, who will meet with Theriault on Tuesday to inspect the improvements.

“They’re minor issues,” said Breadmore.

Bost pointed out that Theriault is behind on his tax payments, his sewer bills and the parking lot lease money. But he said Theriault has always paid his bills in the past.

He owes $11,000 on his July tax bill, $1,138 on his September sewer bill and $5,000 on the parking lot fee.

Theriault said those bills arrive during the off-peak times and he will pay them as soon as he receives his payments from his two primary tenants: Brewer High School and Hampden Academy.

Bost said the Brewer isn’t interested in purchasing the arena, which is what Bangor did with Sawyer more than 20 years ago.

“With budgets as tight as they are, I don’t see that as a possibility,” said Bost. “If [Theriault] paid more attention to the ongoing maintenance and didn’t allow things to slide, I don’t think there would be as much concern.”

Theriault lives in Greene and acknowledges that it’s “a lot easier to manage a rink if you don’t live 100 miles away.”

The former owner of The Colisee ice arena in Lewiston travels to Brewer at least twice a month, he said.

Ice gets a lot of use

Brewer coach Dave Shedd and Hampden Academy coach Bill Schwarz said they are thankful for having an ice sheet to practice on.

In addition to the high school and youth hockey teams, there are 14 men’s league teams and the facility is one of the few rinks that is open in the summer.

“It provides a lot for so many different organizations,” said George Bishop, vice president for instructional skating for Brewer Youth Hockey.

“We don’t even talk about [the problems],” said Shedd. “When we go to other rinks, are we envious? Sure we are. But we’re just grateful to have ice.”

“It’s a sheet of ice and we need that. Ice is ice. The hockey community needs it. That’s for sure,” said Schwarz. “The kids don’t complain about it.”

Schwarz did acknowledge that it “needs some work. The ice is good, but the boards need repairing. It could use a good cleaning. But it’s being run on a shoestring budget. It needs somebody who is willing to put money into it. Randy [Marsh] is very accommodating. He’ll do anything he can to help you. He’s a nice guy who’s good to work with. But he doesn’t own it. He’s just a worker and he’s limited in what he can do. Some people don’t understand that and blame him for everything.”

“There aren’t any structural problems. It just needs money and elbow grease,” said Flynn.

“I’ve been skating on it since I was 3 years old. It’s my home [rink] and it always will be until I don’t play hockey anymore,” said Brewer senior left wing Jacob Chapman. “It’s getting better. It’s not the best rink out there, but it’s our rink. It is what it is. We deal with it. It just needs more care.
It doesn’t need anything big to happen to it. But you need more than just one or two people to take care of it.”

Senior right winger Tyler White said it gives them a decided home-ice advantage.

“That’s probably why we’re such a good team. If you practice and play in this rink, you have an advantage over any other team that comes and plays here,” said White.

But White feels they deserve better.

“For as much money as we pay [for the ice time], you would think we’d be able to get something a little bit better,” he said. “The Zamboni breaks down every two weeks. And if you stop moving on the ice, you get cold. I know we’d get more fans if it wasn’t so cold.”

“But we’re grateful for what we have,” said White.

Marsh and Mike Kane, who ran the rink for three years before returning to Sawyer Arena in July, said Theriault is a good person who cares about the facility.

“I had a good experience there. Roger was always good to me. He treated me very well,” said Kane. “Brewer has a great hockey community. They’re very passionate about hockey. There’s a lot of good people over there.”

“Roger is a good guy and he has a plan for the rink. It’s just going to take time,” said Marsh.

John Duff leased the facility for two years and dumped a lot of money into it. He almost bought it in 2009, but the deal fell through at the last minute.

Theriault, who had intended to sell the facility to Duff for $1.15 million, said he doesn’t have the facility and its land acreage on the market now because, when he did, he used to receive so many ridiculous offers.

However, he said he would be interested in selling if somebody makes the right offer.

Hale said Duff did an exceptional job upgrading the facility.

“It was fun to play there for those two years,” said Hale, who insists that the success can be repeated with “TLC [tender loving care] and more money being put into it.”

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