Scarborough skating rink plan jumps Town Council hurdle

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SCARBOROUGH — A proposed $5.5 million ice skating rink could be built on the outer edge of the Wentworth Intermediate School parking lot after Town Councilors accepted a recommendation Wednesday night.

The 5-2 vote, with Councilors Shawn Babine and Ed Blaise opposed, allows the Friends of Scarborough Hockey to move ahead with fundraising and planning for the 37,000-square-foot indoor rink.

FOSH member Jeff Murray said the facility would be used by players attending local, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth schools.

But acceptance of the recommendation of a site evaluation committee headed by Community Services Director Bruce Gullifer does not mean skaters can get ready to lace ’em up in anticipation of an October 2015 opening.

“It is a great next step, it gets us further down the road,” FOSH President Chuck Bradish said after the meeting, adding he expects the group can present sketch plans for the rink to the Planning Board next month.

Babine and Blaise said they support the rink concept, but not the site. It was one of several studied on the municipal campus, extending from Memorial Park along Sawyer Road and U.S. Route 1 to the Scarborough Public Library on Gorham Road.

Councilor Bill Donovan said the site was chosen and the proposed rink oriented to face the parking lot at Wentworth School to best accommodate traffic flow and use available parking, while still being a “good neighbor” to the library across Quentin Drive.

The site evaluation committee was created as part of the memorandum of understanding between the town and FOSH that councilors unanimously approved Oct. 15.

The committee also included Council Chairwoman Jessica Holbrook, Lee Allen of Northeast Civil Solutions, Facilities Manager Stephen Quirk, Scarborough High School Athletic Director Mike LeGage, and Todd Jepson, the School Department director of buildings, grounds and maintenance.

Independent traffic engineer Bill Bray, Scarborough Public Library Director Nancy Crowell, and School Board member Chris Caiazzo also participated in committee discussions.

The memorandum of understanding also requires FOSH to demonstrate financial capability to fund the project or make a Planning Board presentation by Jan. 31, 2015.

Murray on Wednesday said FOSH, now working to obtain nonprofit status, has approached two Maine-based foundations for funding and could hear from one by Dec. 15.

If grants come through, FOSH will still have a lot of local fundraising work left.

“We could not expect more than half” from the foundations, Murray said.

While Donovan said the suggested site is best for several reasons, Babine, Blaise, a neighborhood resident and members of the library board of trustees said there are either better choices or a need for more study.

Green Needle Drive resident Bill Nickerson said the rink could add to the water problems he and neighbors have had in the development off Gorham Road for three or more decades.

“I couldn’t even mow most of the time out in my back yard,” Nickerson said. “I want to see (the rink) built, but not in the Green Needle Drive area. I don’t think it could take it.”

Town Manager Tom Hall said a retention pond could be considered as part of the rink plan, which requires Planning Board approval and possibly permits from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Current and former library board members Linda Elliot, Thomas Eschner and Emily Read asked for a more comprehensive study of uses for the town-owned land and more consideration of the project’s effects on wetlands and parking at the library and school.

“The municipal campus should be used for municipal purposes, and I am not sure this project meets that threshold,” Read said.

Hall said there have been informal discussions about a master plan process for the land, which could eventually be used to build a new complex for the Police and Fire departments. He added the town’s hand was forced by the rink plan and construction schedule.

“They are at the edge of a very large fundraising campaign. There needs to be some level of specificity,” Hall said.

Babine, who was not part of the council when it approved the memorandum of understanding, said he prefers the rink be built on land now used for an outdoor rink across the road from the high school athletic fields. He also expressed reservations about the memorandum.

“The premise of the idea I think is incredible,” he said. ““I don’t know if I agree with the legal structure in the first place.”

Blaise said he supports the rink, but not on the town campus as spelled out in the memorandum.

Pine Point Road resident Mo Erickson questioned using town land for the rink, while noting more than 50 students who swim on local teams have to commute to Cape Elizabeth to practice. Bradish and Murray estimated 100 local students play in hockey programs from middle through high school.

If memorandum conditions are met and the rink is approved by the Planning Board, a lease will still have to be worked out. Holbrook and Hall were clear in their expectations that FOSH will pay for all construction, design and permitting costs, and for relocating one basketball court, which will be placed at the tennis courts on Wentworth Drive.

Noting the memorandum is a nonbinding first step, Holbrook supported the needed site recommendation while remaining wary of the entire plan.

“I’m not likely to support it if you ask us for a dime and there is not a multi-purpose to the rest of the building,” she said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.