Some councilors still skeptical about Scarborough ice rink plan

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SCARBOROUGH — While most town councilors expressed support for construction of a hockey rink Wednesday night, several were hesitant about putting the project next to the high school.

“I’m not wild about the location for a number of reasons,” Councilor Jean Marie Caterina told the Friends of Scarborough Hockey, who proposed the $5.5 million rink in August.

Caterina said she was concerned about the impact the rink would have on traffic in the busy Oak Hill area, as well as the displacement of a staff parking lot.

Furthermore, she said, placing the rink so close to the school would not allow for future expansion of the building. 

Councilor Jessica Holbrook agreed, and said she was happy to hear that FOSH is open to other locations.

While she expressed similar concerns, Councilor Katherine St. Clair said, “I do really like the thought that those kids can walk safely to that arena.”

FOSH members said that was one of the primary reasons for selecting the land next to the high school, near Gorham Road. They said it would also eliminate transportation costs to and from home games and practices, as well as allow for better practice schedules.

A Memorandum of Understanding, which was  initially presented on Aug. 21, was tabled to allow the council more time for consideration. A vote on the MOU will be held on Oct. 15.

If passed, the document would allow members of FOSH and councilors to begin formal talks on the logistics of the proposed ice rink. The memorandum, FOSH members explained, is not a legally binding agreement and would not guarantee construction at the suggested site.

Councilors also suggested they would like to see the proposed 37,000-square-foot building used by other members of the community, and perhaps transformed into a multi-use facility during the off-season.

St. Clair, for example, suggested implementing senior programs. 

“I think our seniors have been lacking and very patient for numerous years,” she said.

Jeff Murray, a FOSH member and president of the Scarborough Girls Hockey Boosters, said that idea has been a “consistent discussion internally” for the group.

“We realize an ice rink is an ecosystem,” Chuck Bradish, FOSH member and president of the Scarborough Boys Hockey Boosters, said, adding that uses would have to be worked out accordingly.

The rink could be used by all town residents, as well as residents from surrounding municipalities like Cape Elizabeth and South Portland.

Local hockey leagues and figure skating clubs, which are constantly vying for ice time, FOSH said, could also utilize the space.

In April, the ice could be removed to reveal a multi-purpose surface. FOSH members mentioned the possibilities of holding functions like graduations in the space, as well as organizing sports camps and other recreational activities.

The rink would also provide new economic opportunities for businesses, which could serve rink patrons in all capacities, FOSH said. 

FOSH members assured the council that no taxpayer burden would result from rink construction, and that public funds would not be utilized or even needed in the future, because the rink would be self-sufficient.

In their strategic plan, the members included the employment of a full-time rink manager to oversee all aspects of the facility. An operations board, which would include representation from the town, would also be established to ensure oversight.

Councilor William Donovan, however, was not convinced the venture is fiscally responsible, or that allowing the lease of town land is a wise idea.

“How do we protect ourselves against funding this process in the future?” he asked. “I’m concerned about allowing a private entity to have a significant presence on a municipal campus.”

“What I can say for sure is that there’s a need for ice in this area,” Murray said.

“The sport as a whole is growing,” Bradish agreed, citing the planned opening of a rink in Falmouth as an example. 

Mark Maroon, a local finance executive who is also a member of the FOSH board, said the rink will sustain itself, with all revenue streams flowing back into the facility. With no debt and minimal fixed costs, he said, the worst thing that could happen would be the closure of the building, in which case the town would get a free facility.

He said FOSH’s financial plans panned out after only budgeting for the hockey season, even without the inclusion of local business support and off-season use.

Although the town has received emails and comments during public session, both for and against the project, Holbrook suggested further gauging the public’s opinion via online polling or perhaps a non-binding question on the November ballot.

The vote on Oct. 15 will determine whether the proposal moves forward in conjunction with the town. 

Lily O’Gara can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or logara@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @lilyog28.

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