Ice arena proposed for former Brunswick Navy base

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BRUNSWICK — As the assistant coach of the Brunswick High School girls ice hockey team and the father of two hockey-playing children, Mark Wild has done some extreme things for the sake of the sport.

He is routinely on the ice at 4:45 a.m. alongside 20 or so adolescent girls. He has driven an hour each way to take his son to hockey practice. And he has watched his children play in games from Bangor to North Andover, Mass.

Now, he wants a public ice arena in his own town. And he’s well on the way to getting one built at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Wild is the president of the board of directors of Community Ice, a small non-profit organization started by a handful of Brunswick-area residents who are as passionate about hockey and ice skating as they are about creating opportunities for greater community involvement in those sports.

“I want every child who wants to be able to skate … to have this experience, it’s magical,” Wild said.

Of course, he would also love not to have to drive so far to watch his son practice hockey. But it’s more than that, said Bill Bodwell, vice president of the Community Ice board of directors and head coach of the Brunswick High School girl’s hockey team.

“This isn’t a group that has kids who are 7 and 8 years old and want to see this benefit their kids, it’s bigger than that,” he said. “I want to see there be more access to ice time.”

But the cost and limited availability of ice rink time, exacerbated by the roof collapse at Hallowell’s Kennebec Ice Arena last Wednesday, has stood in the way of Bodwell’s and Wild’s goals.

Lack of ice time is also a problem for figure skaters.

“The only ice is at Bowdoin and we have to work around the hockey schedule,” said Linda Despres, director of the Bowdoin College Skating School.

She said since the college closed Dayton Arena in 2009 there has been no public skating in town. While there are still opportunities to learn how to skate, the skating school ends in the spring and doesn’t pick up again until October. Despres travels to Portland and Massachusetts in the spring and summer to practice with her private students who want to skate competitively.

The idea of building an ice arena in the greater Brunswick area has been floating around for at least a decade, according to Bodwell. But the question is always, where to put it?

Bodwell said that about a year ago, he approached Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, about building an arena on the base. Levesque told Community Ice members that there was a 14-acre piece of property that Brunswick had already requested for recreational fields and facilities as part of a public benefit conveyance that could work.

Last February, the Brunswick Town Council voted unanimously to modify their public benefit conveyance and allow MRRA to lease or sell that parcel to Community Ice.

That was a big first step, but in order to secure that lease or sale, Community Ice has to show MRRA that they can raise money to build and maintain an ice rink. “If they can pull those things together and make this happen, we think this is something that’s needed in the community and that would be a great asset to the community and Brunswick Landing,” said Levesque.

Given the lengths his children’s hockey teams and Despres’ skaters will go to secure practice time, Wild said he expects to have no trouble selling ice time at a future Brunswick arena. Nearby high schools, figure skating clubs and youth leagues have already expressed interest, and Wild anticipates that the arena could attract men’s and women’s adult leagues and programs for physically and mentally challenged skaters. He would also like to see any rink offer more public skating.

Although there is a lot of work left to do, members of the Community Ice board are feeling hopeful.

“We have so much positive momentum at this point,” said Bodwell. “Everybody we run across is very positive about this project.”

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net

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