PORTLAND – The Cumberland County Civic Center’s 13-month, $33 million renovation could begin any day.

About 40 people attended a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday morning outside the building’s Free Street entrance, where the first phase of construction will start.

“Today marks the end of a very long and challenging process,” said Neal Pratt, chairman of the Civic Center’s Board of Trustees.

After years of studies into the arena’s problems and possible fixes, Cumberland County voters approved a bond for the renovation project last fall. The design and construction plans were finalized over the past nine months.

The planned upgrade includes the addition of premium seating and private suites, and expanded and improved restrooms, locker rooms and concession areas.

Construction is scheduled for completion in September 2013.

As Civic Center officials posed with shovels outside the Free Street entrance Wednesday, onlookers gathered by the doors and lined up on the stairs — all of which will soon be gone.

In the first of the two construction phases, the Free Street entrance will be rebuilt so that the doors open at street level, rather than at the bottom of the stairs. That work is scheduled to be finished by the end of October.

During the construction, no parking will be allowed on Free Street between the city-owned parking garage and Brown Street. Between Brown and Center streets, parking will be allowed only along the left side of the one-way street.

Most of the renovation will be done in the second phase, which is scheduled to start in April, or when the 2012-13 hockey season ends for the Portland Pirates, who play their home games at the Civic Center.

In that phase, the Spring Street entrance will be rebuilt at street level and a new main entrance will be built at the corner of Spring and Center streets, where there’s now a steep set of stairs that is used only by people leaving the building.

Jim Brown, regional manager for WBRC, the project’s architect, said Wednesday that the new main entrance is meant to be more welcoming than the current one.

“(It) says, ‘We’re part of the Old Port. We’re part of the downtown,’ ” he said.

Along with architects from WBRC, representatives of Cianbro construction, the Cumberland County commissioners and the Portland Pirates attended Wednesday’s ceremony, as did some curious onlookers.

Peter Perzel and Phil Eckenrod, commander and first sergeant for the Military Entrance Processing Station across Free Street, came down from their office in uniform to watch the ceremonial shovels hit the dirt.

“It’s awesome having it right across the street, especially for me,” said Perzel, a major in the Army. “I’m a big hockey guy.”


Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

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