ELLSWORTH — A plan to build a multi-purpose, indoor arena in the city — one which would include an ice rink — was unveiled last week.
A nonprofit group called Acadia Arena at Whitney Landing, which is also what the facility would be called, wants to build the arena on land adjacent to the softball field and water tower behind Ellsworth High School.
Plans for the arena were detailed at the Rotary Club of Ellsworth’s Nov. 22 meeting. Addressing the group were Hal Mayhew, an architect from Vermont who designs arenas and hockey rinks, and Donald Robinson, a Mount Desert resident who serves as president of the nonprofit’s board of directors.
Robinson is credited for having the idea of an arena. Others on the nonprofit’s board are Tim Whitehead, former University of Maine head hockey coach; Dan Pitman, an attorney with Eaton Peabody in Bangor; and James Doughty, a senior vice president with Bangor Savings Bank.
Mayhew said the group spent several years looking at sites for an arena on Mount Desert Island and in Trenton and Ellsworth before settling on the location near the high school. That site was referred to as the “Goldilocks site,” in that it is “just right” because of its central location in the community and proximity to schools, as children would be among the main users.
The projected price tag for the arena is $11 million, and Mayhew and Robinson said the group has already identified more than $4 million in funding since they began looking in earnest in the spring of 2016. The goal, Robinson said, is to rely on private rather than public funding.
“We are striving to not be dependent on any tax revenues,” he told the Rotarians.
Plans for the facility call for an indoor ice rink, with a raised concourse on the second level that would include a track for walkers and runners. The building also would have a small pro shop, a fitness space and a concession stand as well as space for a caterer to use.
That last item in particular would allow the arena to be used for events other than hockey or other sports, such as a graduation or for various types of shows (home and garden or antiques, for example). Mayhew said hockey would likely be the primary use from October through March, with a few weeks in the summer as well, and the rest of the time the facility could be used for other events.
“It’s a big space, so we’ll be able to host a lot of events that people would [otherwise] have to go to Bangor to have,” said Robinson.
He said organizers believe the arena would add to quality of life in the community by promoting healthy living. In addition to the indoor rink and its associated athletic offerings, the plan also includes an outdoor rink and offers proximity to nearby trails.
The facility also would offer educational features that reinforce the connection with nature and local history.
The project’s proponents said they do not want Acadia Arena to compete with or displace other local entities that are focused on fitness.
“We don’t want to replace or do things that other organizations are doing — we want to work with them and coordinate,” he said. “It’s all one community.”
Mayhew also said the arena backers “definitely don’t want to compete with sports stores” in the area. Rather, it is hoped the facility could generate sales for various local businesses.
One of the features Mayhew and Robinson touted is the plan for Acadia Arena to be the first “net-zero” ice arena in North America. As outlined on the website for Mayhew’s firm, Bear Mountain Design, the facility would have “no net cost for electricity and fuel.”
That plan requires two main components. The first is to make Acadia Arena 50 percent more energy efficient than a traditional rink. Though that would be a first, Mayhew said Bear Mountain Design “is confident that through system integration, intelligent engineering, ultra-efficient lighting and mechanical systems,” the goal can be achieved.
The second component would be the use of renewable energy sources, most likely solar for electricity and hot water. That would offset traditional electricity and fuel consumption.
“We hope to really minimize our impact where we’re not consuming as much energy as other rinks do,” Robinson said.
Among Mayhew’s previous projects with Bear Mountain Design is Watson Arena at Bowdoin College, which was the first LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design)-certified ice rink in North America when it opened in 2009.
Rotarian Raymond Williams asked what the annual operating expenses would be for the arena. Mayhew said the typical cost is about $500,000 a year, but with a net-zero facility that cost could drop into the high $300,000 range.
The Ellsworth facility would likely employ four or five full-time workers and about two dozen part-time employees when it is fully built out.
Setting a specific start date will depend on how fundraising goes from here. Mayhew and Robinson said the facility could be built in phases, and that another $2 million to $3 million in funding could allow for the start of Phase I.
With the necessary funding, planning and permissions in place, Acadia Arena is aiming to start construction on the facility in the fall of 2018.