BREWER, Maine — It is still cold and owner Roger Theriault is still behind on his tax and sewer payments.
That said, the Penobscot Ice Arena continues to function as the home for the Brewer High School and Hampden Academy hockey teams and several other teams ranging from youth hockey to adult leagues.
Last year, a number of local coaches blasted the facility because of continuing safety and health concerns. Brewer fire inspector Ralph Cammack and Code Enforcement Officer Ben Breadmore inspected the facility a year ago and compiled a list of code violations that had to be addressed.
According to Cammack, they were addressed and rectified. He said there haven’t been any other complaints, other than a few emergency lights that aren’t working in one of the four locker rooms. He will address that with rink manager Randy Marsh, he said.
Those concerns aside, Theriault will owe the city of Brewer more than $41,000 when he gets his next tax bill on March 12. That includes sewer, taxes and the parking lot fee.
In addition to the minor code violations, which included the replacement of emergency lights and repairing latches on the exit doors and the electrical panels, the coaches complained about feces on the floor of the locker rooms, no hot water, electrical outlets that didn’t work and toilets that overflowed.
“They have cleaned it up quite a bit. That much I did notice,” said Houlton-Hodgdon coach Joel Trickey. “There wasn’t any hot water in the showers last year but there was this year. The locker rooms were still cold but they were a little warmer than they had been.”
Presque Isle coach Carl Flynn said having hot water in the showers may seem like a small point “but it’s pretty crucial for the kids, especially with all the equipment they have to wear.”
That is especially true for teams such as Presque Isle and Houlton-Hodgdon, which have to drive more than two hours to get home.
“We put in a new hot water heater and did some rewiring,” said Theriault, who appears to be making a concerted effort to improve the accommodations.
“The other thing is they provided us with a space heater in the locker room. It wasn’t big enough to heat up the whole locker room but we moved it around. They are making an effort [to improve it],” added Flynn.
If there aren’t enough space heaters, there’s a reason, according to Marsh.
“We’ve had at least 15 of them destroyed by kids,” he said.
Another woman returned a space heater after a member of her son’s team removed it from the building.
“We have vandalism problems at times,” said Theriault. “It’s the most frustrating thing we deal with. We try to do something [positive] and vandalism sets us back.”
“We do what we can to keep up with everything. We try to make as much progress as we can. We’ve come a long way,” said Theriault.
Flynn did notice a lot of what he believed was fungus on the locker room walls, so his players didn’t want to hang up their clothes against the wall.
“But I assume it would cost a fair amount of money to remove it,” said Flynn, who characterized rink employees as pleasant.
Chris Roberts and Derrick Antworth also work with Marsh at PIA.
“They’re doing the best they can to make it the best it can be. It’s going to take a lot of money to bring it back to life,” said Brewer coach Dave Shedd. “But it’s still a viable facility. It has been a little warmer in the locker rooms and the coaches room this year. They seem to be keeping the heating units on a little more and that’s greatly appreciated.”
Other area coaches remain critical of the facility.
Messalonskee of Oakland coach Mike Latendresse called it the worst rink his team has played in.
“It didn’t smell very good. I would never walk barefoot in there,” said Latendresse. “It’s very cold in the building and the locker rooms weren’t that great.”
He has also noticed a small gap in the boards around the perimeter of the ice surface.
“And you could barely see the lines on the ice,” he said.
Latendresse has only played there the past two seasons so he can’t compare it to the way it was several years ago.
“It’s pretty bad. We don’t let our kids shower, they get right on the bus,” said John Bapst of Bangor coach Gene Fadrigon. “I don’t want to criticize anybody. We need the rink. I just wish somebody could do some maintenance and clean it up.”
Senior center Spencer Valley, one of Brewer’s team captains, said the locker room floors have been painted, new shower heads have been installed and new hooks were put up so they can hang up their towels.
Valley also mentioned the space heaters.
Marsh pointed out that the mats on the floors in two of the locker rooms have been replaced with a sealer compound that helps ensure good footing. They intend to do the other two locker rooms, also.
“They’re working hard trying to improve it and they don’t have much money to work with,” Valley said.
“They’ve chipped away at it. The guys work their butts off,” he added.
“I thought people were overly critical [in the story] last year,” said Brewer senior defenseman Jake Caron. “I’ve played in this rink my whole life. I love it, I love the cold. They’re making some strides in the right direction. It’s a lot better.”
Theriault said he has put approximately $20,000 into the rink within the last year.
He is in the process of installing new plexiglass on the boards around the ice surface.
“Jim Cain, who owns The Colisee in Lewiston, manages rinks all over the country and I asked him where I could get some plexiglass,” said Theriault, the former owner of The Colisee. “One of his rinks closed and he is giving us the plexiglass free of charge. All we have to do is pay for the shipping and that’s going to be between $1,000 and $2,000.”
Theriault has always maintained that he doesn’t have the cash flow to make major upgrades but he said he is doing the best he can within his financial framework.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” said Theriault. “It’s difficult at times. But we’re getting there and we feel very comfortable that we’re making progress. We aren’t going backward and that’s a key thing.”
He said they are going to discuss ways to heat the building with the Dead River Co.
“We’d like to make it a little more comfortable [for the players, coaches and fans],” said Theriault.
Brewer city tax collector Mary Marquis said Theriault is behind on his payments, but she pointed out he has always paid his taxes and other bills so the rink has never gone to foreclosure.
They owe $41,890.09 in back taxes, sewer bills and the parking lot fee according to city manager Stephen Bost and that will be compounded if he doesn’t pay the back taxes before March 12.
“He will need to make his payments by December 2013 or the city could foreclose on it,” said Marquis.
“They pay their bills characteristically late and they need to be prodded,” said Bost. “They need to find a way to stay current.”
Theriault said he will do the best he can through payments he receives from Brewer High School and Hampden Academy and the balance is picked up by the Machias Savings Bank.
“We always fall behind because of our cash flow [problems],” said Theriault. “But we usually get caught up.”
Bost said the city council and the administration aren’t interested in assuming the property through foreclosure. He also said he is “appreciative of any efforts they are making to upgrade the rink.”
“The rink serves a real need in this area,” said Bost.
Despite the less-than-ideal situation at the rink, Shedd, Valley and Caron said they are grateful to have the facility.
“We feel fortunate to have ice. We have very convenient practice times and the rink is in the backyard from the high school,” said Shedd. “Our kids won’t complain. They grew up the facility and feel fortunate to have it.”
Theriault doesn’t have the rink on the market, although he will entertain offers for it. The price tag is listed at $1.15 million.
“I’ve had offers and some of them are to use it as something else [rather than a rink],” said Theriault. “I’ll entertain all options but I’m an old hockey enthusiast at heart. I would hate to see it lose its identity as a hockey rink.”