SKOWHEGAN — Town officials and members of a group hoping to return public ice skating to the state fairgrounds agreed Tuesday night to meet for possible public-private collaboration on cost, staffing, fundraising and operations.

Rob Brown, speaking for about 25 people who filled the selectmen’s meeting Tuesday night, said the group was formed last September to help the Recreation Department meet the needs of the “failing plight” of operations inside the Coliseum at the fairgrounds. He said the ice needed site preparation, the warming hut was deteriorating, the Zamboni was old and the rink boards were rotting.

Brown said that, before the group could do anything to help, municipal ice skating was moved from the covered Coliseum, which is open on four sides, at the state fairgrounds, to the town recreation center’s outdoor uncovered basketball court.

Now they want it back where it had been for 30 years, under the shelter of the Coliseum, where, they say, conditions were ideal for skating.

Brown and resident Ed Goff, both passionate ice skaters, said a public-private collaboration would do the trick.

“I’m sorry you missed out on the rink you like so much,” Selectwoman Darla Pickett told the group, which has a Facebook page called “Bring the ice rink back to the Skowhegan Fairground.”

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

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 an employee 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.

But complaints about 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 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.

Selectman Soren Siren pointed to ski areas such as Titcomb Mountain in West Farmington and Baker Mountain in Moscow as successful ventures involving volunteers, adult supervision, public fundraising and work, without which the ski areas could not survive.

Chairman Paul York said the board would schedule a work session with the group to put their heads together for a solution.

“I’d like to listen to all of you,” York told the large group at the meeting. “We will schedule a workshop on the ice rink. I’m sure you, Rob, and you, Ed, will not let us forget.”

Goff noted that the session should come as soon as possible, as the fair association, which offers the Coliseum free of charge during the winter, needs to plan for use of the Coliseum next winter.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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