HALLOWELL — Thomas Arps played hooky from Hall-Dale Middle School on Thursday to learn more about his future in hockey.

Arps, 12, was among about 250 people, many of them youth hockey players, who attended groundbreaking ceremonies for a new ice arena on the Whitten Road. Formerly known as Kennebec Ice Arena, the new rink will be called The Bank of Maine Ice Vault.

“This is kind of like our home away from home,” Arps said. “We decided to come on down and go back to school later.”

Arps, who plays for the Maine Hurricane Pee Wee travel team, had been waiting for Thursday’s announcement since the old arena collapsed under the weight of snow last year on March 2. So have hundreds of figure skaters and adult and high school hockey players who have called the rink home since it was built in 1973.

“I skated on this when it first opened,” said Cony High School hockey coach Chad Foye. “I was actually one of the last people to skate on it, too. I had a men’s league game the night before it caved in.”

High school teams from Cony and Gardiner played their home games at the arena before its collapse. This year, Gardiner played all of its games on the road while Cony played at Kents Hill in Readfield.

Construction of the new rink, which is being overseen by Blaine Casey Building Contractor, INC., is well under way. There was plenty of activity on the site Thursday as groundbreaking ceremonies were held under sunny skies and in mild temperatures.

The $4 million rink is expected to be completed in June.

“First the community got behind us after it happened,” owner Peter Prescott said. “Then the city of Hallowell really stepped to the plate, then the bank stepped up.”

Prescott received a tax break from Hallowell last fall to help finance the new rink. The city will reimburse taxes on the value of the building over the first 10 years of its existence, saving Prescott $612,000. The Bank of Maine, with headquarters in Gardiner, contributed toward the new arena and secured naming rights.

“This is probably the most extraordinary project going on in the state of Maine right now,” Bank of Maine Chairman and CEO John W. Everets told the crowd.

The new arena will include two floors, conference and function rooms, updated locker rooms and a mezzanine or viewing platform at either end that can be accessed from the bleachers.

“I really like the mezzanine style,” said rink Manager K.C. Johnson. “It’s fun to watch a hockey game from there.”

The theme of Thursday’s ceremonies was kids, and dozens were assembled in their hockey jerseys behind speakers to highlight that theme.

But the mission of the rink has changed slightly. Johnson said it’s going to be a teaching facility for figure skaters and hockey players. Toward that end, a newly formed nonprofit organization — the Skating Association of Maine — was formed to oversee youth hockey and figure skating operations.

“The organizations will retain their committees so they will have that oversight,” said Susan Smith, president of the association. “And above that will be the Skating Association of Maine’s board.”

Smith added that merging youth hockey and figure skating organizations will present new opportunities for fundraising and management and create a larger pool of volunteers.

Smith retains her title as president of the Skating Association of Maine, which oversees figure skating in the state and has been headquartered at the Hallowell rink for more than 30 years. The association has 100 full-time members and another 200 part-time members, Smith said.

Steve Prescott, Peter’s son and president of Everett J. Prescott Inc., of Gardiner, began skating there when the rink opened. In fact, the rink was built — at a total cost of $400,000 — so that Steve and many of his youth hockey friends didn’t have to travel to Portland. He is organizing construction and will provide administrative direction to Johnson. As in the past, the rink will be open year-round, he said.

“It’s going to be modern,” Prescott said. “They’ll be two full stories and bathrooms upstairs and down, a bigger skate shop, more warm room downstairs and upstairs for the parents and spectators.”

Gardiner Area High School senior Jeff McAuslin was one of the several Tigers who showed up in their team jerseys Thursday. In addition to playing all their games on the road, the team saw limited practice time.

“It’s definitely been a big challenge, being on the road every day,” McAuslin said. “Going to practices and stuff, it’s been very time consuming. You have to dedicate your entire day to hockey.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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