HALLOWELL — Laura Blackstone slowly glided around the rink, her eyes and mind trying to soak in the experience of being one of the first skaters to step on the Bank of Maine Ice Vault ice.

“It’s amazing,” said Blackstone, 15, of Augusta. “It really is. This whole place … is amazing. It’s clean. It smells better in the locker rooms. It’s aesthetically pleasing. I just can’t get over how pristine it is.”

A little more than four months after the Feb. 16 groundbreaking, the still-not-quite-finished $4 million Ice Vault opened its doors Saturday morning to a curious public.

Figure skaters with the Skating Association of Maine were the first to test the new ice surface, use some of the six spacious locker rooms and get a feel for the vast Whitten Road facility that was built on site of the old Kennebec Ice Arena, which collapsed March 2, 2011, under the weight of heavy snow and ice.

“I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time,” said Blackstone, who’s been with the skating organization for about nine years. “It’s great to finally be back on the ice. It’s just awesome.”

Added Page Carr, 17, of Pittston: “It’s exciting to see. It’s a huge difference from the (KIA). I was really curious to see it. I wasn’t sure if the ice would be choppy or not, but it’s not at all. It’s really smooth. I love it.”

The Ice Vault, however, isn’t quite finished.

The concession area is still under construction, for example.

There is also a little work left on a pair of 20-foot tall metal beams — each weighing about 3,500 pounds — that greet visitors near the main lobby.

The columns are the only remaining pieces from the KIA, which was built in 1973.

Blane Casey Building Contractor Inc., of South China, is overseeing construction.

Owner Peter Prescott, who secured a tax break from Hallowell in September that put in motion the construction of the Ice Vault, said he had hoped toopen the facility about three weeks ago.

“We’re behind schedule a little,” said Prescott. “We got behind in the construction, but that’s easy to do. There are still some loose ends to tie up. There are some things to adjust. The last big thing to do is to get the concessions finished. It’s mostly just little things.”

Prescott added a grand opening is scheduled to coincide with Old Hallowell Day on July 21.

The Ice Vault, complete with its more efficient LED lighting, will seat 536 plus standing room on the mezzanine or platform section on the second floor. The KIA had a seating capacity of more than 800.

The Maine Moose, a junior hockey organization, USA Hockey and the Skating Association of Maine have offices in the Ice Vault.

“The upside is to develop it into one of the biggest areas for hockey and skating in the state,” said rink manager KC Johnson.

The Ice Vault features conference and function rooms, updated locker rooms and a fitness room.

Summer hockey leagues, figure skating, clinics and other events will be held throughout the summer.

“It’s beautiful,” said Tanya Quigley, a Skating Association of Maine director and coach. “To be back here again is amazing. It’s unbelievable. I’ve missed it. I think we all have. This is just beyond my wildest dreams. It’s just the most unbelievable feeling.”

Added Blackstone: “It’s so much better than before. It’s just incredible.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.