Piscataquis County Ice Arena to open in the summer
DOVER-FOXCROFT — The sound of skates cutting into the ice, pucks bouncing off the boards and glass, and more will be heard starting this summer according to the plan for opening the Piscataquis County Ice Arena on West Main Street at the former Brothers Chevrolet property. The $5 million project is being funded by the Libra Foundation, and the arena will be managed day-to-day by Foxcroft Academy.
“This is just a great name because it really indicates — and I want you all to leave with this message — this is not a Foxcroft Academy building,” Head of School Arnold Shorey said to those in attendance at an evening community meeting on the arena Tuesday, Jan. 15 at The Commons at Central Hall. Instead the arena will serve the entire region.
“This is a wonderful opportunity provided by the Libra Foundation and we are very fortunate,” Shorey said. Based in Portland, the Libra Foundation was created by Elizabeth Noyce in 1989 and has made significant contributions to worthy causes throughout Maine. Embracing the sense of proportion and fairness defined by its name, Libra, the foundation maintains a balance and diversity of giving throughout Maine and across all populations according to its mission statement.
“We need all your help, we all have to work together, all the towns,” Shorey said. He said starting a youth hockey program would involve communities other than just Dover-Foxcroft, and this involvement could grow the sport into a cooperative high school hockey team. Foxcroft Academy last fielded a hockey squad in the 2006-07, when the Ponies played and practiced at the Alfond Arena in Orono nearly an hour away on the campus of the University of Maine.
Explaining the vision of providing ice-related sports and recreation for the region at the Piscatauqis County Ice Arena, Shorey said, “Our goal obviously is we have to make it a solid business, revenue has to match the expense.” He said the cost for an hour of ice time for hockey, skating and possibly curling could be around $225 and “obviously there is no intention to gouge anyone.”
Andy Jacobs has been hired to serve as the arena facilities director after serving in a similar capacity for close to a decade at the University of Maine-Fort Kent. Jacobs said the Libra Foundation “does tons of research on things and components you need to be successful with an ice arena.”
“It’s heated but you need ice,” Jacobs said about a facility challenge. He said cooling, air vent, roofing, LP Gas, siding systems, and other components will create “a high-performance building. It’s going to be very exciting, it’s going to be very, very efficient.”
Jacobs said the ice surface will take up 70-75 percent of the Piscataquis County Ice Arena. He said the rest of the space will be comprised of a spectator area, locker rooms, pro shop, restrooms, and concession area. “It will all be ice-related,” he said.
The hope is that ice will be in place year-round, and the facility could be open 24 hours if there is a need. “A lot of technology is driven in this direction,” Jacobs said, saying summer hockey tournament participants could be able to stay in the Foxcroft Academy dormitories just down the street. He said maintaining ice during the middle of the summer could be the most challenging conditions.
“If we didn’t have ice we would have another use like for trade shows,” Shorey said. “We are going to try to make use of all aspects.”
Jacobs said the goal is for the Piscataquis County Ice Arena to sustain its own energy bill.
In a follow-up email the next day Dover-Foxcroft Town Manager Jack Clukey wrote that the Dover-Foxcroft Planning Board expressed no traffic concerns with the project but the owner must obtain any driveway entrance permits that may be required by the Maine Department of Transportation. Clukey also said he understands the Piscataquis County Ice Arena to be a taxable property.
Lucas Butler, project manager for the Libra Foundation’s Pineland Farms, Inc. who has worked in the foundation’s efforts to turn downtown Monson into an arts destination the last two years, said, “We originally had a plan to turn the Brothers Chevrolet building into a turf arena with an ice arena behind that.”
Butler said problems with the former car dealership structure led to it being demolished, and ground was broken for the Piscataquis County Ice Arena last July. Foxcroft Academy is working on the development of an indoor sports facility to be located on the school campus. He said he wanted to echo Jacobs’ comments on the ice arena by saying, “We are building a state of the art facility.”
The project involves steel from the Canam Group and Butler said this company has provided material for the structure of 11 ice arenas in North America.
“We have partnered with Foxcroft Academy to manage the operation, Libra Foundation will remain the owner of the building,” Butler said. He said should revenues not cover the operating expenses, then the foundation will make up the difference so the school is not footing the bill.
“The ultimate goal is to build this up to be a self-sustaining operation with Foxcroft Academy,” he said. “We are going to be here for the long haul.”
An estimate of $600,000 was mentioned as the yearly cost to run the Piscataquis County Ice Arena — which includes facility employees — and with the Libra Foundation funding the $5 million there will be no debt service.
“Obviously we don’t want to do anything to harm the finances of the Academy but Libra Foundation is dedicated,” Shorey said. He said school officials have talked with those running ice rinks elsewhere in Maine to learn more about the operations.
“There will be new hires,” Shorey said. He said a program director will start coming in the next few months, and there will be employees working under Jacobs. “We are expecting ice in the summertime,” Shorey said.
“One of the major economic impacts is sponsoring ice hockey tournaments, so that is going to bring hundreds of people to the region,” he said.
Over the years Foxcroft Academy has hosted state outdoor track championships, regional football finals, and other sporting events. The school has been able to accomodate the hundreds of spectators coming to town and the ice arena should be able to do likewise.
“I have heard business owners say ‘that’s our busiest day of the year’ when we host state track meets,” Foxcroft Academy Associate Head of School/Director of Athletics Tim Smith said.
When asked about reviving ice hockey at the secondary school Shorey said, “We want to grow it from the bottom up so people are confident and experience success,” so this will start at the youth level.
Smith said Maine Principals’ Association rules state a cooperative hockey team can have no more than four schools taking part. “We will cross that bridge when we get there,” he said.
The head of school was asked about how ice sports can made affordable for area youth, “We are going to write to foundations, we are going to reach out. There are lots of opportunities for equipment.” Shorey said a parents’ group could fundraise to help make the sports more affordable so more kids would have the opportunity to play.
“Our purpose is also to develop a girls hockey team,” Shorey said, saying the Piscataquis County Ice Arena will have a female locker room. “Everything we talk about is for men and women, 100 percent.”
He said the next steps are to form an arena advisory committee, hire the director of programming, and get the first ice ready for the summer. Shorey said another public meeting will likely be held once the programming director is on board. Anyone wishing to get involved can contact Foxcroft Academy 564-8351.