March 4, 2011

Kennebec Ice Arena officials 'still trying to figure things out'

By Craig Crosby
Staff Writer

HALLOWELL -- Kennebec Ice Arena officials scrambled Thursday to gather information on a roof collapse that left their building in ruins Wednesday.

click image to enlarge

This aerial photo taken Thursday shows the collapsed roof of the Kennebec Ice Arena in Hallowell. No one was injured when the roof fell onto the rink on Wednesday afternoon.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Officials, who declined several opportunities to speak to the media, said they were not ready to discuss the building's fate Thursday.

"We're still trying to figure things out," facility manager K.C. Johnson said outside the arena Thursday, less than 24 hours after the collapse.

Johnson declined further comment, but indicated more information would be available at a later date. Arena owner Peter Prescott did not return several calls to his office and home.

A busy signal greeted those who called the arena. A message on the its website announced the arena is closed and asked visitors to "please continue to check our website for updates on our progress as we work our way through our recent disaster."

The facility -- a longtime fixture for many local winter recreation enthusiasts -- crumbled to the ground Wednesday, apparently as a thickening snowpack overburdened the roof structure.

Three people escaped the falling building when it collapsed during a brief hiatus between events.

Dan Davis, oil and hazardous material specialist for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said 400 pounds of ammonia gas used by the refrigeration system to freeze the ice was not pumped out on Wednesday, as the DEP had hoped, and that the unstable structure made the job too dangerous Thursday.

Propane and oil have been removed.

"The ammonia is the only possible concern that's still on site," Davis said. "It looks like now it will be scheduled for Monday."

Davis said it's difficult to line up equipment to remove the ammonia.

A specialist was at the arena on Wednesday to isolate the valves, which greatly decreases the potential for an accidental ammonia leak, Davis said.

"The compressor room is in the back corner, up against two exterior walls," Davis said. "The exterior walls seem to be holding well. I think it's well protected as it sits."

There will be a 24-hour security presence at the building throughout the weekend, Davis said. Officials are set to erect safety barriers today.

"Cianbro is supposed to come this weekend to shore up the building so people can work inside," Davis said.

It is unknown what role the city of Hallowell will play in overseeing work at the site, or when the building had last been inspected. Neither City Manger Todd Shea nor Code Enforcement Officer Maureen AuCoin was available Thursday.

The collapse caused the manager of at least one other rink to inspect the snow load on its roof.

"Our maintenance guy went out (Wednesday) and looked at the roof to see if we needed to get any snow off," said Sandy McCabe, manager of Sukee Arena in Winslow.

She said snow is cleared from the roof of that facility throughout the winter.

Jim Benedix Sr., in a telephone interview from his Florida home, said the Kennebec Ice Arena was designed by engineers to withstand Maine's tough winters.

Benedix, one of nine men who built and opened the arena in 1970, could not remember the name of the company that engineered and designed the building.

"It was very carefully put together," Benedix said. "There's a tremendous amount of work that goes into a building that's 240 feet long."

Prescott was the president and Benedix was the vice president and treasurer, Benedix said.

A host of other businessmen were involved in the project, including Ernie Haskell, Bill Williams, Jim Rossi, Rosey Santere, Dr. Dave Dineen, George Heselton and Bob Ballard, who owned the land on which the arena sits.

The men built the arena so their children could play hockey closer to home.

"We had children that played hockey and we used to have to truck them down to the riverside arena in Portland," Benedix said.

The men visited arenas in the Boston area and returned to Maine determined to find a place to build, Benedix said. The men approached Ballard, who owned land all the way to Winthrop Street, and he became a partner.

Benedix left the group after about nine years. He is unsure how many of the original nine are still involved.

"It was a good venture and it's been a very, very good operation," Benedix said. "Everyone involved in it was very proud. I still am."

Craig Crosby -- 621-5642

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