UPDATE: Auburn says it’s too warm for Festival Plaza ice skating

Just like watching ice freeze

It take days, patience and colder temperatures than we’ve had to turn Festival Plaza into an ice rink. The folks at Auburn Recreation have kept plugging, however, and they say the ice should be ready for Friday’s Winter Festival Kick off.

Posted by Sun Journal on Thursday, January 28, 2016

AUBURN — A midweek warmup has made efforts to turn Festival Plaza into an ice rink this weekend daunting, but not impossible.

“We’ll send out a crew this afternoon, and they’ll work as long as it takes,” Jason Paquin, facilities supervisor for Auburn’s Norway Savings Bank Arena, said Thursday. “If that requires overnight, we’ll be there overnight to ensure we have the proper amount of ice by 9 a.m. Friday.”

Festival Plaza on Main Street will be the main focus of the 16th Annual Winter Festival, which kicks off Friday and runs through Sunday.

Weather permitting, the rink and a nearby snow playground should be open for skating first thing on Friday. An ice sculptor and food trucks should be on site at 3 p.m., with live music at 6 p.m.

The festival continues Saturday and Sunday with events downtown and at Lost Valley Ski Area. A free city shuttle bus will connect the plaza with events at Lost Valley throughout the event.

Jasmine McLoughlin, Auburn’s recreation specialist, said the city made a concerted effort to concentrate the festival as much as possible this year.

“That was feedback from the past, that people were excited about what we offered but had a tough time getting to all of them,” she said.

But that idea relied on having ice on the plaza, and the weather didn’t cooperate much. While last week’s highs hovered in teens and 20s, temperatures this week topped out in the 40s. The city relied on the staff at the arena to get the surface set.

“Unlike an indoor rink, we don’t have any refrigeration to rely on — just what Mother Nature gives us,” Paquin said.

The plaza’s surface is higher in the center and meant to drain water away, not let it collect. Crews put down wooden borders around the plaza to stop that runoff, lining the concrete with plastic sheets. They backed up the wooden boards with snow and began filling the rink from a nearby fire hydrant, layer by layer.

“It’s not an exact science,” Paquin said. “We are constantly monitoring temperatures and the weather. It’s not like a swimming pool — you can’t just dump water in. If you put too much in, the top layer freezes and insulates the rest. You have to put a little in at a time to create a sheet of ice that’s skateable and safe, where you won’t crack through it. We have to take our time with it.”

Downtown events will include the ice rink, a nearby snow playground for kids, stories and crafts at the Auburn Public Library and ice-sculpting demonstrations. Pinky D’s food truck will offer grilled cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate from 3 to 8 p.m. on Friday. Gritty McDuff’s will host an outdoor ice bar at the plaza from 6 to 10 p.m. on Saturday.

Events at Lost Valley include a bonfire and sledding, discounted lift tickets and disk golf demonstrations. Baxter Brewing will host an outdoor duathlon, combining cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on a 10-kilometer course Saturday. The ski area is also hosting a free rail jam at noon and a torchlight parade at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Whiting Farm is hosting a 5-kilometer fat tire bike race at 11 a.m. Sunday and the ski area hosts the Maine Ski Challenge slalom race at 1 p.m.

For more information, visit the Auburn’s website, www.auburnmaine.gov, or go to the Winter Festival’s page on Facebook.

Paquin said his staff will maintain the Festival Plaza ice as long as it is feasible.

“We’ve had a lot of great feedback and responses from people passing by,” he said. “They’re calling it ‘Auburn’s Rockefeller Plaza,’ which is fun to hear. So I think it will be thoroughly enjoyed.”

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