March 3, 2011

Ice arena roof collapses; no one hurt

Onlookers reflect on memories made; police call absence of injuries ‘miracle’

By Craig Crosby
Staff Writer

and Betty Adams
Staff Writer

HALLOWELL -- The Kennebec Ice Arena roof came crashing to the ground Wednesday. Police said it was "a miracle" nobody was injured as onlookers reflected amid the rubble on the generations who had skated there.

click image to enlarge

This aerial photo taken this morning shows the collapsed roof of the Kennebec Ice Arena in Hallowell. No one was injured when the roof feel onto to the ice rink yesterday afternoon.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

AFTERMATH: Hallowell police officer Chris Hutchings approaches the Kennebec Ice Arena in Hallowell Wednesday afternoon moments after the roof collapsed.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Additional Photos Below

The three people who were inside when the roof collapsed were all adult employees or volunteers. There were no events scheduled at the time of the incident.

The collapse, the worst of which occurred over the locker room and bleacher section, was reported around 3 p.m., during a brief respite between a public skate and youth hockey. Police are investigating the cause.

Jeff Thompson, a volunteer for Maine Amateur Hockey who was on the second floor of the arena when the collapse occurred, said the first thing he saw was snow falling onto the ice below.

"The first part there was a section that came down, and then the rest came down like a big sheet," he said.

Thompson ran from the north end, where the collapse was the worst, to the south corner. He and two other men -- including rink manager K.C. Johnson and a skate shop employee -- were able to make their way outside.

Thompson was busy fielding calls from friends and family seeking to make sure he was safe.

"My phone hasn't stopped ringing," he said.

State and local emergency responders, including police, firefighters and rescue from Hallowell and Augusta, Kennebec County Emergency Management and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, converged on the building after the collapse.

"If it's 6 or 7 p.m., it's a completely different situation," Hallowell Police Chief Eric Nason said. "It truly is a miracle."

Those who gathered to see the crumpled building marveled that nobody had been injured.

Most reflected on what was lost and the countless memories that had collected inside the crumpled shell.

"It's tragic," said Dan Gagnon. "My kids grew up in this building."

Gagnon said he has played in a men's hockey league at the arena for about 20 years. He was scheduled to play another game tonight.

"Thank God it happened when it did," he said.

The collapse left little hope of repairing the building. The entire length of the 240-foot-long building roof collapsed, folding in the upper metal walls like a crumpled soda can. Most of the dozen structural steel girders that spanned from the ground to the roof were bent; one had been ripped clean from its concrete mooring.

Ceiling tiles and insulation littered the parking lot, blown from the building by wind generated by the collapsing roof. One large chunk of insulation rested in the trees some 30 feet above the ground. Jagged cracks rose from the ground in the concrete that formed the base of the walls.

Nason said engineers would have to determine if the building was safe to enter to inspect.

Ammonia gas inside the building -- which is used to make ice -- was not threatened in the collapse, Nason said.

"We're going to have someone come and pump them out," he said.

The arena, which opened in 1970, was home to a number of high school and club hockey teams and offered public skating sessions. The building had recently been remodeled, including a complete renovation of the locker rooms. The updates included the old boards and glass taken from the Fleet Center, home of the Boston Bruins.

"Quite a few improvements were made," Gagnon said. "It was really shaping up well."

Peter Johnson, who is the father of rink manager K.C. Johnson, said he hopes the rink will be rebuilt.

Peter Johnson looked around the parking lot and noticed faces of those who played on his son's state championship hockey team.

"You take a look around, they're all parents of kids that are playing now," Johnson said. "It's a loss for the community."

Craig Crosby -- 621-5642

Betty Adams -- 621-5631


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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

CAVE-IN: No one was injured when the roof of the Kennebec Ice Arena collapsed on Wednesday afternoon in Hallowell.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan


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