SKOWHEGAN — Outdoor basketball hoops came down Wednesday at the Skowhegan Community Center and a fire hose came out to flood the court for ice skating.

It was a historic event, and one that has not come without some controversy. Public ice skating in Skowhegan has moved from the covered Coliseum at the state fairgrounds, where it has been for 30-plus years, to the recreation center on Poulin drive.

“I like it. I like it a lot,” recreation maintenance assistant Stephen McDaniel said. “It’s definitely a change.”

McDaniel said the Skowhegan Parks and Recreation Department staff, under director Denise LeBlanc, got the idea to move the ice skating rink from the fairgrounds after several meetings and a telephone conversation McDaniel had with the owner of The Rink at Thompson’s Point in Portland, which also does the ice for Frozen Fenway at the ballpark in Boston.

“The old boards are getting rotten and it was time for new ones,” McDaniel said Wednesday afternoon amid the bitter chill of the open rink. “Then we started looking at the trailer, and it’s starting to rot out, so we couldn’t move that. So we sat down as a staff and said, ‘Why don’t we have it at the rec on the (basketball) court?'”

Not everyone is pleased by the move, according to Facebook posts that began appearing just before Christmas. Complaints included posts suggesting there would be no skating after dark because there are no lights, the new one has a smaller skating area, there is no roof, it has square corners, there is no indoor area where skaters can lace up their skates, and less ice time is available when the department staff removes snow and slush.

A representative of the opposition group did not return a request for comment immediately Wednesday.

On its Facebook page, the department said the new site will allow the rink to be open all day every day and will be more visible. Lights will allow night skating programs and community events and will provide new spring-to-fall night basketball.

The new site is in a residential area with children present. Public bus transportation is available and will allow elementary, middle school and high school students and staff members easy access, being next door to the center, according to the Facebook post.

The new site also will provide more free skating and ice-hockey times, and visitors will be able to “utilize the comfort of the Community Center to warm up” and use restrooms and vending machines during operational hours, seven days a week.

McDaniel said outdoor lighting equipment already has been ordered and will be installed soon.

Program assistant Mickey Hoyt at the recreation center said public skating is scheduled to begin Tuesday, but if they can get everything up and running, they will open New Year’s weekend.

“It’s going to save money in the long run,” Hoyt said Wednesday. “We’re not going to have to have a staff person on duty all the time up there, because we have staff here and can keep an eye on it without having to hire somebody additional to be up there, and we’ll have more hours because we’re here.”

He said the old 1987 Zamboni attachment also has been moved to the new site, along with newly constructed rink boards. Hoyt said it will be easier to flood the new rink and to keep the ice intact because the one at the fairgrounds has a dirt floor, while the new one is asphalt.

“This is all hot top, so the water should stay on top and freeze quicker,” he said. “There’s a small trailer up there so they can get in out of the weather and the wind and lace up or get warm.”

McDaniel said the new rink will be able to accommodate the estimated 1,100 skate visits that took place at the Coliseum last year. The average outdoor ice skating rink measures 120 feet by 65 feet, he said, noting that the new rink is 112-by-80, so it is smaller than the one at the Coliseum, which is tucked in the back of the fairgrounds off Beech Street.

During fair time, the Coliseum is used for horse and tractor pulling events, barrel racing, steer and oxen shows and woodsmen events. The rink was provided by the Skowhegan Fair Association at no cost to the town.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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