WATERVILLE Dana Sennett and Michael Roy watched on Thursday as a giant excavator was picked up at the Harold Alfond Athletic Center on the Colby College campus as it was being torn down.
It was a bittersweet moment for the men, both 68, who played hockey on the indoor track from the time they were boys growing up in Waterville.
“It is certainly a very sad day for many of us to see the rink we grew up in has to go down,” said Roy, Waterville’s city manager. “We realize it’s for a brighter future with the new ice rink, but so many memories are tied up in this building for us.”
Sennett, a former city councilor and mayor of Waterville, also shared mixed feelings.
“I feel bad about this facility because, you know, this rink was our home,” he said. “It was my salvation and almost church to me growing up because of the opportunities it gave me. The Waterville boys played ice hockey here as part of the Waterville Youth Hockey program organized by Ray Lemieux. I spent eight years of my life here playing ice hockey every Saturday. It gave opportunities to many families who may not have had any activities. “
The huge 207,000-square-foot athletics center on Campus Drive included the Harold Alfond ice arena and the Wadsworth Gymnasium, as well as squash courts, a swimming pool, field house and a fitness and recreation spa. The gym has hosted many high school graduations and other events over the years.
“Demolition began earlier this month,” Brian Clark, Colby’s vice president of planning, said earlier Thursday. “It will continue into winter and be ready in March next year.”
Consigli Construction is destroying the structure of the same company that built the new, $ 200 million, state-of-the-art, Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center on campus. The new facility features the state’s first Olympic-size pool.
The 350,000-square-foot center opened to Colby students and staff in August and includes an indoor competition center with a 200-meter track and a multi-story 13,500-square-foot fitness center. The center will be available for community, region, and state use as soon as it is deemed safe.
Clark said Colby was disappointed to not have been able to admit the public into the new on-campus athletics center due to the coronavirus pandemic, but as soon as possible, it will.
“The moment we can resume operations at that point, we’ll be in,” he said.
The old athletics center that was destroyed was built over time, with the gymnasium and field house dating back to 1953, Clark said. The original building was actually an old airplane hangar that was salvaged, he said. Prior to construction, there was also an outdoor ice rink on the property.
According to Clark, Harold Alfond of Waterville made his first major philanthropic contribution to build the indoor ice rink in 1955.
“He built it to attract Jack Kelley as the head hockey coach,” he said. “We are very happy that Jack Kelley’s name will be on the rink of the new Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center forever.”
The field house, lobby, and pool were added to the older athletics center around 1967.
“The entire facility was completed by the mid-1960s,” said Clark.
That benchmark paved the way for the then-excellent athletics facility to recruit top coaches and athletes and become a founding member of the New England Small College Athletic Conference, he said. Notably, during the 1974-75 season, the rink hosted the first women’s intercollegiate hockey game in the country, with Colby versus Pembroke joining Brown University according to Clark.
“The history and importance of the Harold Alfond Athletic Center was profound,” he said. “It’s bittersweet to see it come down.”
However, a welcome gift emerged from the ruins. Colby donated about $ 1 million in ice hockey equipment from the old facility to the Alfond Youth Center, which plans to work with the Central Maine Youth Hockey Program to build an over $ 4 million indoor ice rink near downtown on North Street.
Meanwhile, when the old facility is completely gone, a partially finished practice field behind it will be completed, and recreational and landscaped facilities will be developed near the athletic field complex, Clark said. The popular Colby mule statue east of the facility will be moved to a different spot in the athletics complex, although a precise location has not yet been chosen, he said. The mule was donated to Colby by the Class of 1943 in 1993.
Clark said Harold Alfond, the Alfond Foundation, and the Alfond family owe an incredible gratitude for their continued and sustained contributions to Colby, the town of Waterville, central Maine and beyond, since Harold Alfond’s first donation of the rink in 1955.
LOTS OF MEMORIES
Roy started skating in the old Alfond Arena in 1959 or 1960 when he was 7 or 8. Except for a few years in the late 1970’s, he skated there every winter for about 60 years.
“It was such a fantastic experience for us because none of us had ever been to an indoor ice arena until then,” he said. The Waterville Youth Hockey program started then, coinciding with the start of the baby boom wave that came through. With a new rink, lots of kids, and excellent coaching, some of it Colby Waterville Youth Hockey became a hockey powerhouse in Maine and New England, including making two or three forays to national tournaments in Michigan in the mid-60s. “
Roy takes a short time off to stop at the old facility to view and remember the demolition.
“Seeing the old ice rink is difficult because of all the memories made there,” he said. “For many of us, the ice rink was a haven where you could just play.”
More than any other Colby location, the rink helped integrate the college into the community, Roy said.
“For over 65 years, so many local people have come to know the college through Alfond Arena,” he said. “It helped strengthen the bond between the school and the community.”
Born within two days of each other, he and Sennett played in championships in peewee, bantam and other teams when they were young. They played alongside Sennett’s twin brother Dean, right into their varsity years. Many hockey players in Waterville were born in winter, which gave them an advantage over those born later in the year because they were physically taller and had more strength, Roy and Sennett said.
“Seven of us were born within three weeks of each other,” Roy said.
When they were boys, their teams were sponsored and named after organizations such as the Kiwanis, Elks and Rotary clubs, the Alfonds and the Laverdieres.
“We would be skating on the outdoor rinks during the week and on Saturday we came here to play a game and stay in our match uniforms for the rest of the day and play outside,” Sennett recalls. “There was public skating on Sundays and the ice rink was always open. You can board for a small fee. “
The boys played hockey together on the ice rink for years. In addition to Roy and the Sennetts, there were Mark Bolduc, brothers Paul and Mark Boudreau, Mark and Rusty Winters, and others.
“In one year we had three brothers, the Boudreaus, the Sennetts and the Winters,” said Sennett. ‘The Waterville High School team played here. It was our home job. We played more than half of our games and our playoffs here. I have won three New England and three state championships in my career. “
Roy said the “dynasty” began in 1968 when Waterville won the New England championships, winning a total of three championships in three years.
Sennett recalled 1,500 to 2,000 people who packed the facility to watch the games.
“The whole town celebrated when we won,” he said. “We would get double spreads in the local newspaper, the Morning Sentinel.”
Roy, who graduated from Waterville High School in 1970, would go on to play hockey after enrolling with Colby that year. Sennett, who graduated in 1971, was recruited by Kelley from Boston University. Sennett received a full hockey scholarship and enrolled in the fall.
“It was the same year that BU won the national championship,” he said.
He noted that the Waterville Bruins team, a semi-professional men’s hockey team, also played the rink every Sunday and competed with teams from all over New England. Colby himself had a strong program, he said. The ice was always hard allowing players to skate quickly.
Later Roy continued to play hockey, playing for 25 years with the Noontime Hockey League, called the NHL, on the rink, until the building closed in the spring of this year.
“Colby staff and students joined, so it was really great for the community to have that connection with students, staff and administrative people,” said Roy.
Sennett did not play in that league, but used the fitness club there for 25 years. He stopped playing hockey 15 years ago.
“I have two new hips and a new knee,” he said. “I’ve finished playing, but I’m dreaming about it. You always dream of it. “
Roy described Sennett as “definitely one of the best players to get out of here”.
Sennett called Roy a ‘solid defender’.
“You can always trust Mike to do his job,” he said.