The Friends of Scarborough Hockey will disband if $2 million isn’t raised by spring.

Despite its best efforts, a group of hockey enthusiasts hoping to build a new $5.5 million ice arena in Scarborough has hit a roadblock in raising the necessary funds.

The result is that the Friends of Scarborough Hockey could disband.

However, in one last attempt to reach out to major donors that may be interested in partially funding the project, the group has given itself another five months to see if new life can be breathed into the ice-arena idea.

Friends of Scarborough Hockey first announced its intentions to build a 37,000-square-foot, 630-seat rink in late summer 2014. The group initially sought cooperation from the town and the school department to locate the facility on town-owned land.

The impetus behind the ice arena project was “the lack of available ice to support youth ice-based sports in Scarborough and surrounding communities,” according to a letter the group sent to the school board last year.

The lack of ice “is having a negative impact on our students, specifically the middle and high school hockey programs,” the letter added.

The initial hope was that the communities of Scarborough, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth could come together in support of the new ice arena, which would then serve as the home rink for all three hockey programs.

In addition, the group said, the new arena could also provide ice time for local youth hockey programs, men’s hockey leagues, figure skating programs and community open-skate sessions.

Overall, the goal was for the new facility to operate on a full schedule for at least eight months of the year, September through April.

While the Friends of Scarborough Hockey was hoping for support from the local school districts for the ice arena, the group was clear from the start that it would not rely on taxpayer funds either to build or operate the facility.

For the past year, the group has applied for various grants and reached out to major donors seeking start-up money for the project, but all of that failed.

The group then turned to professional fundraisers to get a better idea of whether the ice arena was feasible, said Lee Allen, one of the group’s founders.

However, the group said in a press release, “today’s fundraising climate for this type of activity is very low and unless a major donor or donors came forward a general fundraising effort for this project would not be successful.”

Allen said the basic message from the professional fundraisers was that the group would likely not be able to get the ice arena off the ground without first “getting a couple million in starter funds.”

But that turned out to be a Catch 22, he said, because what the Friends of Scarborough Hockey heard every time it approached a major donor was: “We’re willing to donate, if you had money in hand.”

Despite this news, Allen said, there are “still a lot of people interested in moving forward” on the ice arena.

“If we received $2 million (by spring), we would definitely continue” with the project, he said.

Group members hope that the announcement of the fundraising difficulties will serve to “re-energize the project.”

Jeff Murray, another founder of the Friends of Scarborough Hockey who led the fundraising effort, said this week the ice arena is “not a dead issue” and that it could “still become a reality” because the demand for ice time is still there.

While the ice arena may not become a reality in the near future, Murray said, “on a larger scale, we started a good conversation.”

He said that the professional fundraisers the group approached all agreed that the market “is not good for a broad-scale fundraising effort” and that the “money’s just not there for any cause” right now.

But, like Allen, Murray still hopes some major donor may yet come forward.

“If we could get two to three big donations, that would be the impetus to start up again,” Murray added.

He also said that the group gave itself until March before it disbands and gives up on the ice arena project because the intervening months provide “a new window for donors to come forward.”

In addition to the lack of funding, the Friends of Scarborough Hockey said a new contract for ice time at the OA Sports Center in Saco has alleviated the immediate pressure for a new ice rink to serve the school-based hockey teams.

In its press release, issued Monday, the group said that “ice availability for the Scarborough boys and girls high school hockey program has changed for the positive” with the ability of the school department to “secure all practice and home game ice at (OA) for the coming season and hopefully for many seasons to come.”

The press release also acknowledged the “hundreds of hours” volunteers have given to the proposed ice arena project.

“The mission of Friends of Scarborough Hockey continues to include the active support of a home ice arena for our hockey teams and community,” the press release added.

However, with the facility in Saco now providing ice times for Scarborough’s hockey programs, the friends said, “we plan to (focus our) support (on) this relationship and the future opportunities it presents to our hockey teams.”

A Scarborough group hoping to build a new $5.5 million, 630-seat ice arena in town has hit a fundraising roadblock and may disband.File photo

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