Former Happy Wheels manager and upcoming owner Derek Fitzgerald stands with his significant other, Taylor Hart, behind the shell of what will be the roller skating counter. While a lot of work is left to be done, the rink is starting to come together the couple said. Chance Viles / American Journal

The new Happy Wheels should be ready for roller skaters early in 2022, according to owner Derek Fitzgerald.

Interior framing has been added for the rink building at 84 Warren Ave. in Westbrook.

“It’s finally starting to look like Happy Wheels,” said Taylor Hart, Fitzgerald’s longtime partner.

Derek Fitzgerald at 16, working at the Happy Wheels rental booth. Twenty-four years later, he’s building his own Happy Wheels in Westbrook. Contributed / Derek Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald is the former manager of the old Happy Wheels at 331 Warren Ave. in Portland, which was sold to developers and closed in 2019 after more than 40 years much to the chagrin of skaters. It was the sole roller skating rink in Southern Maine.

Longtime skater Payson Wiers of Gray said he got choked up when he saw the new building a few days ago.

 “It is hard to envision what it’ll feel like when it opens because it’s been such a part of so many people’s lives and so many generations. It’ll be a new location sure, but the feeling will be the same. The emotions, the love of the skating people have,” said Wiers, a friend of Fitzgerald.

“When this first came up I wasn’t sure it would happen, but Derek has done it with such enthusiasm. I am really proud of him,” Wiers said.

Fitzgerald received Planning Board approval for the project in in March 2020 and has been working on it since.

Happy Wheels is under construction in Westbrook, not far from it’s original location across the Portland line. This exterior wall in facing Warren Avenue will hold the original Happy Wheels sign, which the owner is currently touching up. Chance Viles / American Journal

“It’s becoming real to the point where I am now worried about making sure my ducks are in a row, not for construction, but for opening,” Fitzgerald said. “Small things from pencils to receipt tape. I have been coming at night running sessions as if I was working to make sure we will have what we need.”

Fitzgerald, who also works at Idexx, expects to open in early next year, but cautioned it’s possible it might take a bit longer to finalize all the details at the rink, off Chabot Street in the industrial park.

The building still needs sheetrock, drywall, floors and ceilings, and plumbing and electrical work needs to be finished. Then comes the furniture and decorations, much of which was saved from the old rink, before finally adding the rink floor itself, which Fitzgerald will be the iconic blue color of the original rink.

“The rink comes last because of how it goes down. You can’t have moving air or people in, and it takes three coats (over the wood before it can be used),” Fitzgerald said.

Former Happy Wheels skaters will feel at home at the new rink, he said. The look will be the same, “but with some small changes.”

“We will have two tickets windows over one, that got crowded, and things like that,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald wouldn’t say how much he’s spent on the project so far, but he expects the total cost to be over $1 million. He’s had some donations and will continue to accept them because “any bit helps.”

The Happy Wheels legacy rolls deep in the area. In the 1970s there were seven Happy Wheels rinks in Maine and New Hampshire. The rinks in South Portland and Scarborough closed in the 1980s and 2000s. The last Happy Wheels in Maine, the Portland rink, closed in 2019.

Skaters young and old get in one of their last skates at the old Happy Wheels in Portland in December 2019. New Happy Wheels owner Derek Fitzgerald said his rink’s floor will also be blue. File photo

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