LEWISTON — The Planning Board unanimously approved the concept of a hockey academy/school at The Colisee on Monday night.
The first question was on zoning fit. That answered, Colisee owner Darryl Antonacci said he’d be back soon with a proposal and details on bringing in modified cargo containers for players’ dorms as soon as this summer.
“There are boys from all over the country that live in Lewiston and they train (at The Colisee already) everyday,” Antonacci told the board. “They’ve been going to local schools or online. What we’re trying to do is, for their safety and the cohesiveness of the organization, is to bring them onsite.”
Antonacci owns the Maine Nordiques junior hockey team and bought The Colisee last year.
In his application to the board, he said The Colisee already offers 70-plus students “two premier hockey school and development programs.”
The city, though, has had the facility at 190 Birch St. classified as an ice skating rink for entertainment, not a school.
“That’s part of the reason we’re here,” David Hediger, Lewiston’s director of planning and code enforcement, said. “We’ve been questioning whether or not this is a place of indoor amusement and assembly or some type of academic use … We know that this is something that (Antonacci’s) been working on, to transition from the traditional use that Lewiston is familiar with for The Colisee and his plans for it. I don’t know that it’s an issue, other than if it continued in this direction without making the request that the board’s looking to tonight, then there may be some concerns.”
The board agreed that a hockey school/academy fit with the area’s institutional office zoning, paving the way for dorms.
Atonacci said there are no plans to bring teachers onsite.
“It’s not for math and English and things, it’s for hockey teaching. That’s all,” he said. “Parents at some point might want to get a tutor to come to help their kid or do SAT stuff, that’s possible. There’s some space for that to be done. Our primary thing is hockey academy training, not supplementing their traditional education locally or online as is being done mostly now.”
He’s proposed housing players in eight modified cargo containers in the upper parking lot, sharing two cargo container bathrooms, and potentially building an outdoor ice arena between the containers down the road.
“We have the boys spread out in the city with some billets and some personal housing and things like that,” Antonacci said. After online or in-person school, “they literally are training with hockey about five or six hours a day. At night they have their dinner and then they’re brought back to their living facilities. What we’re trying to do is put it all onto one site.”
Even as a hockey school/academy with dorms, The Colisee would continue to host high school graduation ceremonies and some hockey championships, he said, “all those things that help keep us in touch with the community … It’s just that we’re looking for a use extension here to allow us to put these dorm units in position, hopefully by the end of August here, because we’re on a tight timeline.”
Board member Shanna Cox said she appreciated the site staying a shared community space while “thinking creatively about the use of the site and acknowledging its history and all that its future potential could be.”
Up next is coming back to the board for development review.
City Planner Doug Greene told board members early in the meeting not to get caught up with questions about the modified cargo containers, for now.
“They are already looking at how to design these living units to be comfortable, livable, to be safe,” he said. “They’re working with the state fire marshal. All those things will be handled at the next stage.”