KENNEBUNK — For the past two winters, Geraldine Waterhouse would drive past a temporary ice rink on the site of a former gas station and see children happily looping in circles across the ice. It reminded her of her own childhood in Montreal, where she and her siblings would join friends for hours of skating at a park.

Waterhouse wanted the same for the children of Kennebunk for years to come. So with the help of her granddaughter Paige Schroeder, she set up a $1.5 million endowment to help town officials create the Waterhouse Center, an open-air pavilion with an ice skating rink that will host free community activities throughout the year.

The creation of the endowment sparked a fundraising campaign that has raised nearly $900,000 to build the 11,000-square-foot pavilion, which town officials hope will bring more people downtown and support the local economy.

The Waterhouse endowment will generate an estimated $60,000 to $75,000 annually to maintain the facility and pay for educational and recreational activities.

The final touches are now being put on the pavilion, which is just steps from Main Street in the town’s downtown center. A daylong celebration of the pavilion’s completion is scheduled for Saturday.

For Town Manager Barry Tibbetts, it’s the final stretch in a four-year process that began with the town buying a former Mobil Station and is ending with his vision of a community gathering spot becoming a reality.

“People have looked at this, seen the vision and said this is going to be great for downtown,” Tibbetts said. “I think the town is really blessed to be able to have this kind of facility.”

The town bought the property at 51 Main St. in 2010 for $280,000, with plans to clean up the site and sell it for redevelopment. After using a $145,000 Brownfields grant to remove contamination, town officials were unable to find a developer for the site. In 2012, residents voted overwhelmingly to keep the property for town use, and town employees each winter built a temporary ice rink for public skating.

“It was nothing fancy, but it was a big family event,” said Kevin Donovan, chairman of the Board of Selectmen. “Kids would come down with their families to skate, have hot chocolate and visit local businesses.”

Waterhouse, meanwhile, noticed the children skating and saw the opportunity to help.

Waterhouse spent summers in Kennebunk as a child, and moved to town permanently in 1964 when she married Homer Waterhouse, who has since died. She said she saw the ice rink as the perfect opportunity to give back to the community she loves and provide free activities for children.

“When I was young, I loved skating,” she said. “My memories went back to that and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have a skating rink for the children.’ ”

After Waterhouse’s gift, the town launched a campaign to raise money to replace the temporary rink with a permanent pavilion that would provide a roof over the ice and an open-air arena for warmer-weather events. Tibbetts equates the effort to “an old barn raising,” with residents and businesses donating time, money and materials. The contributions so far have surpassed $700,000 in cash pledges and about $125,000 in in-kind donations.

Ultimately, the pavilion was built at no cost to taxpayers. But town officials hope it will benefit the town in ways far beyond just providing entertainment for residents.

“Downtowns have to compete against malls and big-box stores. How do you get people into that town center to support local businesses and restaurants?” Tibbetts asked. “This is part of the plan to get people to come downtown.”

Donovan believes the Waterhouse Center will be “extremely successful,” both in providing activities and getting people back downtown.

“I think it truly adds to the downtown,” he said. “Instead of a vacant lot, now we have a building that is aesthetically pleasing. I think it’s a win-win for everyone.”

Waterhouse, who lives a couple blocks from the center, has checked on the progress of construction nearly every day. As workers laid bricks around the edges of the structure last week, she talked about the excitement building in town.

“The children are so excited about having it,” she said. “That’s very pleasing to me.”

But even before children are ready to lace up their skates, residents are inundating Donovan and Tibbetts with a very important question: Who is going to drive the Zamboni?

The machine that maintains the ice has turned out to be one of the most anticipated features of the project.

“The competition is very keen in town for who is going to drive the Zamboni,” Donovan said. “Apparently we have a lot of closet Zamboni operators in town.”

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