2018-03-01 / Front Page

Ice arena outlines plan

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The city will help the Biddeford Ice Arena borrow money for several long term projects that require immediate attention.

The ice arena’s refrigeration system is more than 40 years old and uses the cooling agent freon, which has been banned by the federal government as of Jan. 1, 2020. The cost to replace the system is $350,000 and new equipment is expected to save the arena about $11,200 per year in electricity costs. Due to the high cost of equipment, the arena will use a revenue bond to pay for the replacement. Because the city owns the arena building at 14 Pomerleau St., it will facilitate the bond on behalf of the arena. According to the city’s online database, the city has owned the building since 1979 and it is appraised at just less than $2.5 million.

The ice arena makes payments of $36,000 annually on a revenue bond from 2010. Finance Director Cheryl Fournier said that bond was used to help pay for a new fire alarm, sprinkler system, upgrades to water lines, handicap accessibility, roof stabilization and lighting. In a letter to the finance committee dated November 2017, she wrote the city wasn’t sure the arena would be able to afford a new bond based on its annual revenue. Since then, she said, it’s looking better for the ice arena.

“After we found out more information, (the arena) makes enough revenue to definitely cover it,” she said. “They’ve got over $10,000 extra a year.”

Most of the arena’s $468,899 of income from its 2017-2018 budget comes from renting ice out to other organizations, but also includes the sale of beverages, public skating and sponsorships.

Craig King, ice arena manager, did not return a request for comment but said in December he hopes to have funding approved in time to install the new system in April and to make ice by August. He said the new system will used an ammonia-based cooling agent. The arena has also requested a bond for $250,000 in 2021 to replace aging bleachers that King said were already repurposed from a gymnasium and likely installed in the 1970s.

The arena was scheduled to pay off its current bond by 2030 and if the city decides to refund it, the arena would pay it off by 2038. The city would apply for a bond through the Finance Authority of Maine, a state agency charged in part with administering and developing capital throughout Maine. Fournier said the finance authority’s application fee is expected to be between $5,000 and $15,000 depending on the bidding process for the bond. If the Finance Authority of Maine approves the bond, city council will then have an opportunity to discuss and vote on it.

Should the ice arena be unable to pay the bond, the Finance Authority of Maine would hold the city of Biddeford responsible.

“They’re the ones that do the due diligence to make sure the (ice arena) can actually make the payments,” Fournier said.

If the new bond is approved, the ice arena would make annual payments to the city of $25,000 per year.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Fournier said. “It shows the ice arena is planning on continuing. The city does not want to be in the ice arena business. We provide them a facility to allow this many kids to go through these programs, which is awesome. I know a lot of kids who have gone through these programs.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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