AUGUSTA — It’s not as easy as it might seem, making ice on the ground, even in the winter in Maine.

At least in a form that people could reliably skate upon.

It has been three years since the city of Augusta last put up an outdoor ice skating rink, according to Leif Dahlin, community services director. It didn’t go well.

Dahlin said city workers put a lot of time and effort into it — that year and others — only to see the ice melt or deteriorate as the weather warmed. He said the effort produced diminishing returns and seemed like a poor use of city resources for the benefits it produced; and the rink, even when it was in good shape for skating, didn’t get a lot of use by the public anyway.

Even when the ice doesn’t melt entirely, Dahlin said, when it’s on bare ground, it can melt from the bottom up, causing surface inconsistency or mud to rise to the top, making for an unpleasant mess.

“We last tried three years ago and could not get the ice to stick around,” Dahlin told city councilors, some of whom had asked Thursday why the city no longer had a public skating rink. “It’s an exercise in futility when you’re trying to do it on top of the ground. The cost-benefit analysis just wasn’t there. And the weather now is dramatically different than it was when we, as kids, used to skate all winter.”

If the city really wants to have an outdoor skating rink, he said, his recommendation would be to invest about $10,000 to buy a pre-made portable rink. That would come with a heavy-duty liner and its own 18-inch-high boards to form an enclosure that then would be filled with water by city workers to make a 76-foot-by-152-foot ice rink at Mill Park, where the ground is flat.

Dahlin has looked into such systems sold by Nice Rink. Such a system wouldn’t prevent the ice from thawing in warm weather, but he said it would help prevent ice from melting from the ground up, because of the liner between the it and the dirt.

Councilors were noncommittal Thursday, and none proposed to purchase the new rink system.

“I’m not 100 percent sold on this. I’ve seen very little use (of the city’s previous outdoor skating rink) in recent years,” Ward 3 Councilor Harold Elliott said. “A good Saturday or Sunday you may see 10 people over there. If we could guarantee 300 to 400 people would use it every year, I might consider it. But I don’t see that.”

At-large Councilor Corey Wilson said he’s opposed to the city spending that kind of money to create an outdoor rink. He noted Camden National Bank Ice Vault just across the city line in Hallowell has daily times for public skating — for what he described as a low price — that is easily accessible to Augusta residents. The privately owned Ice Vault advertises public skating for $5 or less per session.

Wilson said the money also is needed, more urgently, for other work, including maintenance of cemeteries and city parks.

At-large Councilor Mark O’Brien said he wanted to hear what other councilors — only four councilors attended Thursday’s meeting — think about an outdoor skating rink before deciding what, if anything, to do. He said it would be good if the city could offer more winter activities for residents.

City Manager William Bridgeo said city officials could take a closer look at whether to bring back an outdoor ice rink during the next annual budget process. That will allow them to consider doing so as they consider other funding needs across the city and its schools.

Dahlin said an account designated for Mill Park has enough money in it to pay for the lined rink, if councilors want to use it for that purpose. He said creating a rink also would require some increased overtime spending — to pay workers to fill the rink with water in layers at night, so it can freeze and become smooth ice for skating.

Dahlin noted an irony of outdoor ice rinks — that when you have a run of good, cold weather allowing for quality ice to be created and maintained, the weather might be too cold for most people to want to go outside and skate.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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