Don Lamontagne, right, an employee of the Colisee, talks with Maine Nordiques player Tristan Fasig about the next task to be done while working on converting a cargo container into a dormitory in the parking lot at the Lewiston arena Tuesday afternoon. After the Planning Board approved the developmental review application, they are building one out as a template. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The Planning Board voted 6-1 Monday evening to approve the developmental review application to add bathroom and dormitories to The Colisee.

In the board’s first in-person meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the board asked Steve Blais of Blais Civil Engineering and Brian Kenny, an employee of The Colisee, how the Birch Street facility would be able to house hockey academy players in modified cargo containers safely, what the bathroom situation would be for players and coaches, and other issues for over an hour. 

Board member Lucy Bisson voiced concerns throughout the meeting about the cargo containers already being placed at The Colisee and worked on before getting board approval. 

I have a problem,” Bisson said. “The boxes are already there and they started working on them before we started on this. I think that is hubris and I am not inclined to look favorably on this because you already started and didn’t ask for our permission.”

Bisson was the only vote against the plan.

Pauline Gudas also was not happy about starting work before getting approval, but voted with a “reluctant yes.”

Gudas, near the end of the meeting, asked Douglas Greene, deputy director and city planner for the Planning and Code Enforcement Department, if the group was in violation of code by starting work before the board took up the issue.

Greene said it was determined they were not. 

“During our preliminary staff reviews it was discussed openly and it was agreed that one container would be on site so they could do templates,” Greene said. “When we learned that there were multiple containers on site we were disappointed to hear that. While we were somewhat uncomfortable with this happening we were OK with this because they are temporary and they know the risk they took. We understand there is a time crunch, so we decided they were not in violation.”

While not in violation, Gudas said it was a slippery slope that the city could go down. 

“I have been on this board long enough to know that city staff on more than one occasion are allowing businesses to start projects before coming to the board,” Gudas said. “If another project comes to the board after already starting I believe the board should refuse to see it.”

Gudas reiterated her stance prior to her vote. 

“Hugely disrespectful to this board,” Gudas said. “I, for one, will not allow this to continue. I think it’s disrespectful that they came to us having already started. I don’t care if it costs them thousands of dollars … Any more projects that come in front of us, at least from my perspective, I will be making a motion as chair that we do not have a hearing, that I will deny it right from the start. We are not going to let this continue and let things slide and give a pat on the back like good old boys.”

After the vote, Brian Kenny said his group had no comment. 

During the meeting, board members asked about heating the containers and were told each of the six containers housing eight students each and one for two coaches will have thermal heat pumps that will provide heat to 15-20 degrees before backup heating will kick in, according to Kelly. 

A cargo container will be placed at each end of the housing containers and be made into bathrooms. Kelly never said how many showers were in each, but said students will be able to use the locker rooms at The Colisee to shower after practice. 

Bisson asked how students will manage in the winter moving to and from the bathroom and their dorms to shower, or what they will do if they get sick in the middle of the night. 

Submitted images

“What if someone gets sick in the middle of the night and have to puke?” Bisson asked. “Or they have the flu? That means when it’s January and it’s zero or less they’ve gotta walk from their unit and walk outside in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I don’t think that that’s a good idea. To have teens or young people to do that, I would not want that for my kid.”

Kelly said hockey students are used to it. 

“Most of the parents we’ve asked, we haven’t had anybody who’s had a major concern about it,” Kelly said. “I think these young men are a little unique. They are used to living in wet bags and wet locker rooms and I am surprised sometimes how they do it so well. The program provides them with a lot of outdoor gear. As part of their package they get hats and parka-style coats. With the sheer nature of hockey they are used to being in and out of the cold, in and out of cars, parking lots.”

Another issue of concern was the surrounding neighborhoods.

Gudas brought up an instance of a car she saw last week hit a structure at The Colisee and explode. 

“I have concern about security,” Gudas said. “I will be blunt, it’s not in the best section of town, and No. 2, last Wednesday night there were a number of individuals that decided The Colisee will be a great race track to the point where they struck a Colisee structure and the car exploded and the individual was caught on fire.”

Kelly said the students will be contained at The Colisee, and after being pushed on the issue he said they are planning to add more security cameras and connecting surrounding fences from schools and fields.

Previously in the meeting, Blais said The Colisee would put up concrete barriers by the containers for safety. 

The containers will only have electricity and the only containers with running water will be the bathrooms. Players’ containers will be allowed mini fridges but no cooking devices. The containers will also have smoke detectors and sprinklers.

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