SKOWHEGAN — Controversy surrounding a decision to move the municipal ice skating rink from the covered Coliseum outdoors at the state fairgrounds to the smaller, uncovered outdoor basketball court at the town recreation center began as soon as the move was announced in December.

Cost saving on staff and efficiency of location were the driving factors, officials said.

“So sad,” and, “The rink will be missed,” were some of the comments posted on social media at the time.

Since then, a group has been formed to try to bring skating back to the fairgrounds. Members are planning to address the Skowhegan Board of Selectmen Tuesday night “in hopes that our comments will initiate positive discussions resulting in the return of the municipal skating rink to its original home at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds,” according to a Facebook group called “Bring the ice rink back to the Skowhegan Fairground.” By early March, the page had received 200 “likes.”

The selectmen’s meeting is set to begin at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the council room at the Town Office on Water Street.

Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand said the move to the recreation center was done partly as a cost-saving measure and partly for the convenience of the location.

“I know there were several different factors into the move — the financial reason was the major motivator in the move,” Almand said. “There also was difficulty to staff the facility. We had multiple challenges.”

She said there was a small group of adults that would use the fairgrounds rink for hockey and they liked the location and the size of the rink.

The Coliseum had been used for winter skating for at least 30 years. The new location at the recreation center is snowed in, having not been plowed or shoveled for some time.

“We have 12 people with a vested interest in a sustainable rink at the fairgrounds, under the cover of the roof,” organizer Rob Brown said Monday.

A copy of the public statement to be delivered Tuesday evening will be posted on the Facebook page to coincide with the address to selectmen, Brown said.

“I love to skate,” Brown continued. “I want everybody to have the opportunity to experience the joy and the pleasure of skating, because I enjoy it so much — it’s been a part of my whole life.”

Complaints over the move included social media posts suggesting there would be no skating after dark because there were 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.

On its Facebook page, the town department defended the move, saying 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, the department said.

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 department’s 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.

Program assistant Mickey Hoyt at the recreation center said in December that the new location will save the town money and will be easier to flood for ice because the basketball court is paved, while the Coliseum has a dirt floor.

“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,” Hoyt said at the time.

No one was available for comment Monday at the rec center, including Skowhegan Parks and Recreation Department Director Denise LeBlanc, who Almand said was not working Monday.

Cathe Ayres, of Madison, said Monday that she is in Skowhegan “all the time” and supports the move back to the fairgrounds.

“We have used the ice rink for years,” she said Monday. “My daughter goes to the high school and it’s sad that she never got to use it because anytime we had time it was bad weather and you couldn’t use the rink. The way it used to be at the fairgrounds, even if it was snowing out you could still go skate because it was covered. It’s just a bad place to have it — it just didn’t work out well this year.”

Others on social media said they gave ice skates for Christmas, but never got a chance to use them

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 to the town by the Skowhegan Fair Association at no cost to the town.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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