PORTLAND — The Cumberland County Civic Center’s trustees will soon decide if it’s worth it to complete a $33 million renovation quickly, even if that means shutting down the arena while the work is under way.

The trustees met Wednesday morning with a representative of the architectural/engineering firm WBRC, which will do the final design work for the renovation of the 34-year-old arena. The trustees also voted to issue a request for qualifications from construction managers to oversee the work, which was approved by county voters in November.

The trustees hope to pick a construction management firm by mid-February, said Chairman Neal Pratt. Once the construction manager is named, the trustees will set a work schedule and decide whether to renovate the aging arena around concerts, hockey games and other events or shut the doors to allow the work to be done quicker.

He said the trustees will have to assess the potential savings from getting the construction work done quicker, particularly at a time when construction costs are down due to the sluggish economy. He also said there are potential savings from floating the bond to pay for the work soon, while interest rates are low. Laws limit the ability of government agencies to float the bonds far in advance of when the work will be done and the money spent.

On the other hand, the Civic Center would lose revenue while the arena is shut, and closing would also mean lost business for downtown hotels and restaurants, Pratt said.

Shutting down the arena during the summer would not affect the Portland Pirates, since it would be the off-season for the AHL hockey team.

Regardless of that decision, some work will begin this summer, assuming city planners approve the proposal.

Don Dethlefs, a consultant working with WBRC, said workers could rebuild the Free Street entrance to the arena after a James Taylor concert in late June, the last booking until the fall. He noted that most touring performers switch to outdoor arenas in the summer and aren’t interested in indoor venues like the Civic Center.

All three corner entrances to the Civic Center — currently indented — will be squared off as part of the renovation. They will also be reconfigured to allow direct access from sidewalks, rather than stairs. For instance, the stairs at the corner of Spring and Center streets known as the “suicide stairs” because of their steep angle and slick surface in winter would be eliminated and ticketholders would enter at ground level.

The renovation would also create new premium seating areas and suites, widen the concourses, improve concessions and ticket areas and upgrade backstage facilities, including the loading dock and dressing rooms.

Trustees on Wednesday briefly discussed the design. Trustee Beth Edmonds, of Freeport, said she looked forward to the arena no longer looking like “a crashed spaceship.”

Dethlefs also said the redesign would allow for some more windows on both Spring and Fore streets, with more light spilling onto sidewalks, creating a greater sense of activity. He is also working on plans for a new bar and concession area for club seat ticket-holders.

Rob Frank of WBRC said architects will deal with general concepts for the renovation in the next six weeks and begin work on preliminary designs in mid-February. After getting feedback from trustees, he said, work on detailed designs would begin in May. Those plans would be completed and reviewed by August, he said, and the architects would then create construction documents for contractors to follow.

Trustees on Wednesday also approved about $80,000 work of preliminary work, including a 3D scan of the building that will be used in the design work; an assessment of potential environmental hazards, such as the presence of asbestos; and removal of some trees next to the building.

 


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