Sports

The Iceman Cometh

All dressed up and ready to go, Greg Meakin’s dream of bringing an ice rink to Kitsap County comes true today when the Bremerton Ice Arena opens for business for experienced and unexperienced skaters alike. “The concept from the very beginning has been total inclusion — all age groups, talent levels and all the different activities,” he said. - Photo by Rogerick Anas
All dressed up and ready to go, Greg Meakin’s dream of bringing an ice rink to Kitsap County comes true today when the Bremerton Ice Arena opens for business for experienced and unexperienced skaters alike. “The concept from the very beginning has been total inclusion — all age groups, talent levels and all the different activities,” he said.
— image credit: Photo by Rogerick Anas

Can one man’s building change a city? That’s one of the dreams Bremerton Ice Arena creator and managing director Greg Meakin has had over the past nine months as he has converted a piece of unloved park property into the first ice arena in the West Sound in decades.

“The most common thing I hear is two words — thank you,” Meakin said. “I honestly don’t know if a day goes by without hearing that.”

As word of the arena has spread, via word-of-mouth or on the sides of the Meakins’ cars (his wife Deborah’s Chevy Avalanche has the license plate 479RINK (the arena’s phone number), his truck’s plate is ICEMAN), there’s still plenty of questions and praise even as the doors prepare to open today for the first day of business.

“People are thankful of me and my team for bringing the community an event and recreation destination — a place for people to go,” said Meakin, a native of ice rink-mad Quebec, Canada. “I concluded the other day we are really not building an ice rink — we are building a modern day town square.

“The concept from the very beginning has been total inclusion — all age groups, talent levels and all the different activities.”

Putting together all the pieces to make an ice arena hasn’t been easy (see “The birth of the ice age”, right). Rejected in Central Kitsap, Meakin had to shop his dream elsewhere in Kitsap County and after a discussion with Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman, things began moving quickly.

“It’s a good idea for the kids,” Bozeman said. “This kind of facility is so special, we couldn’t afford not to act on it. Anytime a city can provide a place for kids to recreate it’s a good thing. And to be able to provide those kinds of activities in a public-private partnership is important. We are in a partnership and I believe that is the wave of the future,” to attract similar destination spots like the ice arena and conference center/hotel complex now under construction on the Bremerton waterfront.

Funding for the $4 million project came from local philanthropists Chuck and Joanne Haselwood, owners of the Haselwood Auto Group, who also have supported such projects as the Admiral Theater, Pendergast Park and the Olympic College Library.

“I love ice skating,” Joanne Haselwood said in an interview in 2001.

Haselwood said she doesn’t skate, but is a fan of figure skating.

The city provided the land on Homer Jones Drive in exchange for a 50-year agreement with the arena which gives the Bremerton Parks and Recreation Department control over 194 hours of use a year. Among the uses being planned are after-school activities on early release days next school year and two programs this summer — the Summer Playground and the Parks Department’s summer camp for special-needs children.

“It’s a classic win-win situation,” said Parks director Jim Spencer. “We didn’t have the money to build this building but we did have a place to put it. And it creates a one-stop recreational area with the Kitsap Family YMCA and the (city-operated) Glen Jarstad Aquatic Center where everyone’s going to benefit.

“There’s a lot of exciting opportunities there.”

Sitting entrenched on a hillside, with its view of the Port of Washington Narrows and the Olympic Mountains, the ice arena structure isn’t imposing with its creamy exterior walls and gleaming bronze facade. But nobody is coming to look at the outside — it’s all about the interior with its 50s-era soda fountain, comfy couches, party rooms and, most importantly, the NHL-regulation 85-foot-by-200-foot ice rink behind a pair of automated glass doors.

Surrounded by a wall topped with glass and netting to the ceiling to keep wayward hockey pucks from leaving the rink, workers spent three days last week putting the ice down in 1/16-inch-thick sheets on the smooth concrete floor to create the perfect surface for skating. When they reached a height of 1/4-inch they stopped to paint the entire sheet white with red and blue stripes using special reflective paint mixed with titanium. That done, the crew (which does the ice for events at the Tacoma Dome), laid on more water 1/16th of an inch at a time until the ice was 1-1/4-inch thick.

All said and done, the ice floor crew will have laid down 10,200 gallons of 160-degree water (hot water has no air bubbles in it which can cloud the ice) on a floor that’s kept anywhere between 24 degrees (for hockey) and 30 degrees (for figure skating and public skating).

That answers the question a lot of people have been asking project manager Jim Wootan.

“Everybody keeps asking me ‘where are you going to bring the ice from?’” Wootan said with a smile.

Keeping the floor in sub-freezing temperatures even in the heat of summer is done by 15 tons of ice making equipment and 13 miles of piping laid underneath the floor by Accent Refrigeration Systems of Vancouver, B.C., who also kept the ice rink floors cool at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

“It’s very efficient,” said Accent Refrigeration Systems president Art Sutherland, who was in town last week to oversee the ice making equipment’s installation process. “All refrigeration is transferring heat from one place to another and we have 100-percent heat reclaim ability.”

The floor temperature is all computer controlled based on the activities planned and an infrared camera hanging from the ceiling keeps track of the temperature of the ice.

With some of the best ice in the world and a solid business plan already in place, there’s just one question — now that it’s built will people come?

“The original theme from the beginning is world class — do everything you do with quality,” Meakin said. “The likelihood that it will be accepted by the locals is high.”

Down the hill from the arena at the pro shop, manager John Magers said there are a lot of closet ice skaters and hockey players in Kitsap County who have skating experience but haven’t wanted to travel over an hour to skate.

“We have a lot of people coming in that haven’t played hockey in 15, 18, 20 years,” said Magers, a South Kitsap grad who also runs the pro shop at Tacoma’s Puget Sound Hockey Center. “A lot of the guys coming in are between 32 and 43 that have lived here for 20 years and didn’t want to go to Tacoma or Seattle to play hockey. So they just hung the stuff up.

“Now here’s a rink and they get a chance to play hockey again. There’s a lot more talent in this county than anybody knew about because they’ve just been sitting at home watching it on TV. They’re coming out and saying ‘I’m ready to play hockey now.’”

Then there’s the people who want to skate — but don’t know how.

“A lot of people say they want to play but they’ve never skated before so we’ll have skills-and-drills programs for them with adult instructors teaching everything from how to skate to how to hold your stick and move a puck,” said Magers. “I love to teach people how to do this. Teaching an 8 year old who has never been on the ice is just as exciting as teaching a 60 year old who has never stepped on the ice but wants to play hockey.”

Magers said the best way for beginning and former hockey players to find their niche in the arena’s expansive hockey schedule is through the lunchtime or evening drop-in programs.

With all eyes on Bremerton this weekend with Armed Forces Day events, City Council president Carol Arends sees the arena as more than just a benefit to the surrounding area.

“It is very important for a number of reasons,” she said. “This is going to be a good addition to the city’s expanding redevelopment. It isn’t all in one area — it’s the entire city. It’s going to bring help to the economy and everything that is already here in Bremerton. Being privately operated it brings increased tax revenue to the city but mainly I’m thinking about the increased benefit to all the citizens.”

As for Meakin, his dream has become reality. Not quite the one where his arena changes the city because the jury is still out on that. No, it’s the one where he doesn’t have to drive an hour to take his twin sons Carson and Colton to their first hockey practice.

“I get asked all the time ‘you must be excited, right?’” Meakin said last week as he walked through the then-still unfinished building. “I really don’t think it has hit me yet. I really don’t think I’ve stepped back and felt the magnitude of it all.”

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