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Ice rink given a second chance by volunteers

Resident Randy Curbitt stands high on a ladder to reach spots on the ice rink that could use a fresh paint job. Lauren Tiner. (click for larger version)
November 25, 2009
Despite selectmen's talk of running the town ice rink for one more year before potentially shutting it down, volunteers have come out of the woodwork to help bring the rink back to life for the community without a hefty cost.

Merrill Fay of Fay's Boatyard, which sits right across from the Arthur Tilton Ice Rink on Varney Point Road, has banded together a group of volunteers to get the rink up and running, with the approval of the Parks and Recreation Department.

Residents and volunteers as far as Massachusetts and Maine have gotten up at the crack of dawn to ensure that the ice rink is freshly sanded and painted. These volunteers include two players from the Laconia Leafs, a local hockey team that Fay's son coaches with players from all over New England, along with a resident volunteer.

Laconia Leaf junior hockey player Fred Hein drove all the way from North Reading, Mass., last week to help paint the external structure of the rink.

Hein said he usually plays at the Laconia Ice Arena, but when he heard the town might potentially rid of local ice rink, he wanted to do something. He said he would have been happy to have the same opportunity as a child to utilize a nearby facility because of his knack for hockey.

"They already put it up. I don't see why they don't keep using it," said Hein.

Fellow Laconia Leaf player Matt Delgiudice from Oakland, Maine, said he asked his coach if his team could hold one of their games at the town ice rink during their winter season. Fay said he has also run this idea by the recreation board before, which would greatly expand the town rink use.

Gilford resident and Fay's neighbor, Randy Curbitt, plans to spend every morning at the rink, repainting the facility and moving it along for the winter season in hopes that his children can still utilize it.

"My kids like to skate. It's a good way to help out the community and the neighborhood. There is no reason to shut it down or tear it down," said Curbitt. "We will be here every day. As long as it takes."

Fay said that although the ice rink has seemed to be pushed to the side, it also seems that a lot of residents still utilize the rink and value it.

"We have been working on this for a couple weeks," said Fay. "We started talking after the negative press (on the town rink possibly no longer being utilized next year) and said let's go. We got all the permission we needed. Board chair of the recreation department is an advocate for the rink and said go ahead, try whatever you can."

Commissioner of the Gilford Parks and Recreation Department Tom Francoeur said money has already been approved in the budget to flood the facility for the winter season. He said that other maintenance work has to be done, and thanks to volunteers, the rink is already in the process of being repainted at no additional cost to the town.

"We use good old-fashioned ice. This is the only rink we have in Gilford," said Francoeur. "The facility has been here historically for many years. It is important to the town people and it is great for the community."

Francoeur said he not only wants to attract town residents, but Laconia residents and the rest of the Lakes Region.

"We are looking to do more activities and have volleyball games or basketball games in the off-season. The goal is to make it a full season facility," said Francoeur. "It was Merrill's idea to start volunteering with the department's blessing. He is trying to revitalize an old baby."

Francoeur said there is no way to revitalize recreational facilities without community sports, yet he said Gilford already has all of that.

"We are trying to show the town this is a utilized facility. We want to make it a full service facility with no cost to the town through fundraising, public involvement, and donations," said Francoeur.

He said that the ice rink might be open soon for ice skating, figure skating, and freestyle, as well as stick/puck practices. The ice rink is also avaliable for rental and can be used for birthday parties, said Francoeur.

As for the history of the rink, Fay said he has stayed involved throughout the last 20 years and remembers when the board of commissioners for the recreation department made the rink come alive with the help of the town and volunteers. He explained that the rink is technically on town land but was built by volunteers.

He said that the rink was brought in before the actual external structure from the Ice Palace in Burlington, Mass. The rink cost about $15,000 at the time and is considered to be a standard sized rink. Bean Construction installed the building and lights for $165,000.

The rink received $200,000 in funding, and the recreation department received $33,000 in their contingency fund, yet the town never utilized the money thanks to anonymous donations, said Fay.

Francoeur explained that the rink has also been given a perpetual grant, but in order to keep the grant, the ice rink must be kept running and cared for by law. Francoeur said he cannot sell the rink, although he could move the rink location if he wished to another town area.

For now, Recreation Director Herb Greene and volunteers just want to see the rink make it through another season in hopes that it will stay this way. The next Parks and Recreation board meeting will be held on Dec. 6 to discuss the ice rink.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Town of Alexandria
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