Saturday’s reopening of the Piscataquis County Ice Arena in Dover-Foxcroft has been pushed back indefinitely due to a possible community transmission of COVID-19.
But Matt Spooner, the director of programming for the new facility, said the decision makes perfect sense and they will be ready to re-open when it is deemed safe to do so.
The Piscataquis Regional YMCA also closed this week for a few days due to the possible COVID-19 transmission.
“Why chance it? You’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to be flexible. There’s no major rush,” Spooner said.
Spooner, assistant Scott Pangburn and facilities director Lucas Butler have been getting the facility ready since it closed in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The multi-million-dollar facility funded by the Libra Foundation was scheduled to stay open until mid-May. It opened in October 2019.
Spooner, Pangburn and Butler have been working with personnel from the Belfast Curling Club to improve the curling sheet, establishing COVID-19 safety protocols, upgrading and moving a hockey scoreboard and setting up the installation of a streaming link, which is scheduled to take place on Friday.
They also have added sponsorship and Penquis Youth Hockey Association logos.
Spooner pushed for a curling program at the facility because “it can be done by all ages.
“We have a lot of older people in Piscataquis County and any time you have a sport that gives you the chance to get more people involved, it’s good,” he said.
His plan is to use the facility for curling on Fridays and Saturdays twice a month.
Spooner said that it takes half a day to convert an ice surface into a curling sheet but just a couple of hours to switch it back to an ice surface.
The COVID-19 measures included marking off rows of seats and having plenty of hand sanitizer available to keep spectators safe.
“We marked off the stands in the bleachers. The first and third rows of seats are available, but we roped off the second and fourth rows. And we recommend that you leave three seats open between spectators,” Spooner said.
The facility has 248 seats.
They have two hockey scoreboards but the one that listed penalty minutes is in a position that made it impossible for coaches and players to see it. So they moved the second scoreboard, which didn’t list the penalty minutes, from the Zamboni entrance to the east wall and upgraded it so it now includes penalty minutes.
Spooner said the streaming service being added to the facility is called livebarn.com and you will be able to see live activities going on at the PCIA, as well as from 1,200 other venues across the United States and Canada.
Spooner, a 47-year-old Brewer native who used to work at Gunn’s Sport Shop in Bangor and now Brewer, said he was pleased with the rink’s first year of existence.
“We had 2,500 step on the ice and that was just from pretty much November to March,” Spooner said. “It was unexpected to see that much participation. And the sponsorship and support we received was above and beyond what we expected.”
He had approximately 60 skaters in the Penquis Youth Hockey Association program and the facility also offered broomball, figure skating, curling, stick-and-puck (pick-up hockey) for adults and a learn-to-skate/learn-to-play program. The arena is also available for skating parties.
Broomball was played across the ice sheet, which is 85 feet wide, rather than the length of the sheet, which is 200 feet, so the players don’t have to run as far and three games can go on simultaneously.
He had shown interested people a learn-to-curl video before taking them down to the ice surface. One of the curling programs is stick curling, which enables disabled people to participate.
Spooner said the Brewer Youth Hockey program and the Maine Junior Black Bears have booked ice time at the rink because Brewer’s Penobscot Ice Arena is scheduled to undergo renovations soon and availability of ice at other rinks is uncertain due to the coronavirus.
They were planning to book four hockey/skating camps in August, but that won’t be happening.
Spooner said the goal is to have the facility operating as an ice rink 12 months a year. If there isn’t enough business, they would take the ice out from mid-May until the end of summer and use the concrete surface for events like trade shows.
He said if anyone is interested in their facility, the website is thepcia.com. Anyone looking to get involved in the youth hockey program can check out penquisyouthhockey.com.