HALLOWELL — As he sat behind his desk in the front office of the Camden National Bank Ice Vault with his staff Friday morning, Bill Boardman seemed confident that business would soon be picking up.

But the general manager of the Hallowell ice rink also had no issues admitting that the building, like other central Maine businesses, has also taken its fair share of lumps while it was essentially closed down for the last 3 1/2 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Boardman said the shutdown of the Ice Vault — a $4 million facility built in 2012 on the grounds of the former Kennebec Ice Arena on the Whitten Road and financed by Peter Prescott, the chief executive officer of E.J. Prescott in Gardiner —  began in March, right before the start of a Maine Amateur Hockey Association/USA Hockey tournament.

“We were shut down the 13th or 14th of March,” Boardman said. “We were scheduled to host a USA Hockey regional tournament that very weekend when everything shut down, so we lost that tournament. And from then on, it was pretty much shut down until the middle of June, and we did some one-one-one (activities), like one (hockey) coach, one player, or one coach and four or five players. Then, when July came, we were able to do a little bit more. It’s been different, it’s obviously been a lot quieter than it used to.”

Heidi Atwood, of Embden, skates Friday at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Boardman was quick to point out that the cancelation of the tournament not only hurt the Ice Vault, but multiple businesses in the Augusta area.

“The tournament was major, not just for us, but for everybody,” Boardman said. “Every hotel was booked with guests from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island. It was a big deal. Every hotel was calling us, ‘Is this tournament happening?’ From that perspective, it was a big loss.”

In the three months that followed, business was affected in a variety of ways. From a rink perspective, the ice was removed in April and May, ending any possibility of skating or hockey activities.

A few people enjoy some free skate time Friday at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“Traditionally, April and May is pretty soft,” Boardman said. “It’s not terrible by any means. There’s other pieces of our business that have been hit hard. Generally speaking, we’d be starting up camps and clinics at the end of April and May and we’d be doing three or four nights of camps, clinics and skating. So we’d have a decent spring. Obviously not this year, that didn’t happen.”

But the Ice Vault not only runs on the rink alone. It has rooms that, as Boardman said, can house 75-100 people at a time for functions, meetings and conferences. It remains quite busy during the spring, adding added revenue.

“I think, just the month of April, I had three days that we didn’t have a meeting (scheduled),” Ice Vault office manager Bobbi-Jo Burdin said. “The room rentals upstairs, we lost all that business. We lost all that business and we’re not (scheduling meetings now) because (of COVID-19) and mostly they don’t want to come, because mostly it’s group-sized.”

“Maine CDC was scheduled to be here for an entire week to do a training (in May), which was just kind of ironic,” Boardman said. “They called and said ‘Well, we’re not coming.'”

The building reopened July 1, and has started to host public skates again, with a ticket cap of 50. Boardman said in an effort to follow COVID-19 protocol, tickets are now being sold online, instead of at the office, located at the front of the building.

A few people skate in the Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell on Friday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“(The crowd) varies from day-to-day,” Boardman said. “But that’s similar to what’s it been in the past. We’ve transitioned to all-online ticket sales, so you can’t walk in and buy a ticket anymore like you could before. So everything is kind of contactless. We’ve transitioned to that in trying to do as many of the right things as we can. So we know ahead of time who’s coming. We have noticed that if the weather is going to be rainy, we’ll sell a lot of tickets that morning. It’s weather related somewhat, just like it would have been in the past. Some days, we’ve had 46 out of the 50 tickets that we’ve sold, some days we’ll have 10, but it depends on what is going on and where people are, and weather is a factor in that.”

The public skates have been a welcome return for 17-year old Fairfield resident Joseph Pellerin, who attends two to three skates per week.

I’ve been very impatient (while the Ice Vault was closed),” Pellerin said. “I’m very thrilled (public skates have returned).

“I haven’t been to many others, but I think this rink is really nice. I like this rink a lot. I’d probably say it’s the best one we have around here, or around Maine.”

The Ice Vault has also hosted shinny — or pick-up hockey — that has been popular.

“Shinny has been sold out almost every single time that we’ve done it,” Boardman said. “The hockey people are ready to play hockey, I’ll tell you that.”

The Ice Vault has also hosted some youth hockey activities, but haven’t had any high school or adult hockey in the building as of yet, as the locker rooms in the building remain closed. Boardman said he hopes to have high school activities going in the building again by the end of the summer. Three area high school teams — the Cony/Gardiner/Winslow girls, Gardiner boys and Cony/Hall-Dale/Monmouth boys — call the Ice Vault home during the winter high school season.

“Without locker room use and shower use, it’s very difficult to do (adult hockey),” Boardman said. “So most of what we have done from a youth hockey standpoint, a community sports standpoint, is 10- to 14-year-olds. Because they can dress like the old days, they get dressed, mom drives them to the rink and they go out there to go play, you can do that. When you’re high school age and above, that makes it a little more challenging for us.”

Despite the lost business over the last three months, Boardman said the building is hanging in financially and the staff remains in good spirits. That said, where the building stands going forward will also depend on what activities will be allowed, and how many people can hit the ice.

“It is a lot,” Boardman said. “It’s starting to add up. It depends on what the future holds. It depends on where we go in September and October. We’ve been able to make it through to this point, being creative with private lessons and private ice rental and that kind of stuff. We try to do everything that we can and be safe and healthy and do all of those sorts of things. Sports and recreation is probably one of the hardest hit areas. We can’t do to-go (service). We can’t do takeout. There’s no delivery of ice skating, we depend on people being here, and lots of people being here to pay the bills.

“We’ve really focused our energies on what we can put on the ice and how we can make the ice piece work. Get as many kids skating as possible, because there’s a need.”

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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