By Riley Gallagher
Springtime brings a thaw to local ponds and streams, but for the first time since Tropical Storm Irene, the ice is out at The Ice Center in Waterbury as a result of COVID-19.
In March, just days after Governor Phil Scott issued a stay-at-home order in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Ice Center officials made the decision to take out the ice — a step last taken after Irene in 2011.
Under the governor’s order, the rink fell into the category of nonessential businesses and manager Jerimy Thivierge came to the conclusion that the most economical approach during the closure was to remove the ice. “To keep the ice in, it would cost roughly $2,500 a week just [in] utilities. That is hard with zero revenue coming in,” he wrote on The Ice Center Facebook page.
Harwood girls’ varsity hockey coach Mike Vasseur said he suspected the center would need to take that step. “With everything else being closed, I wasn’t surprised,” he said.
In addition to coaching during the winter sports season, Vasseur holds a six-week summer hockey camp at The Ice Center for female athletes from Harwood, Stowe, U-32, Hartford, Woodstock and North Country high schools.
The widespread shutdowns canceled traveling spring hockey leagues. Vasseur said there’s now a chance the summer camp won’t happen either. While it isn’t ideal, he said this wouldn’t be a large inconvenience to his team.
Springtime is quieter than the busy winter season being the home rink to Harwood’s girls’ and boys’ varsity hockey teams, but it still depends on hosting teams and events for income. Usually this time of year, the rink serves adult groups, youth groups, public skating and stick-and-puck programs. None of these activities are happening now. For example, youth hockey groups like the Vermont Flames aren’t hosting tryouts for next season’s teams.
“They count on renting out the ice,” Vasseur said, worried how zero revenue will affect the business. “It’s some of the best ice and employees in the state.”
Removing the ice was a significant project. J.A. McDonald, the construction company involved in the Main Street reconstruction project, volunteered a Bobcat excavator and employees to help take the ice out, Thivierge said.
In just three hours, the ice melted sufficiently and was broken up to be removed by the Bobcat.
When the ice will be back is unknown. “No date for it to go back in yet. There is no date for when this virus will end. When it’s over, the ice will be back,” Thivierge remarked.
The process to replace the ice involves using lasers to ensure a perfectly flat rink, he said. Putting the ice back is a three-day process to lay down thin layers of ice.
Thivierge said he has all the paint and supplies ready for putting the ice back whenever that time comes. He promises the process will begin with minimal delay as soon as the center is allowed to reopen.
He said the skating community should watch The Ice Center’s Facebook page where he will post updates.
Riley Gallagher is a senior at Harwood Union High School.