In this Feb. 15, 2019, file photo, people play curling at the Belfast Curling Club. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

BELFAST, Maine — Most winters, the Belfast Curling Club on Route 3 welcomes teams and groups to the ice to curl regularly.

But this past winter, the activity was moved outdoors in order to be safer during the coronavirus pandemic. That’s why when a pipe burst inside the usually busy center in March, no one noticed immediately.

The water flooded the building for several days, causing significant damage. Now, club members are gearing up to raise money to help pay for the necessary repairs and renovations, which may cost as much as $250,000. Those repairs will need to be addressed before any more practices or competitions — called bonspiels — can be held on the ice there.

Board member Ken Gordon, who heads up the building and grounds committee, found the leak on March 9, when he went to the building for a monthly water test. When he arrived, he noticed the glass door was all steamed up, something he’d never seen before.

“When I opened it up, it was like a Turkish bath,” Gordon said. “There was a leak, and it was spraying water … The hot water pipe basically put all this steamy water into the building.”

The water had run all over the bar floor and then beyond, puddling up on the hardwood floor in the warm room and then pouring down to the lower level of the building.

“There were 6 to 8 inches of water in the basement,” Gordon said.

He dashed home, got his boots and came back to turn off the water and start grappling with the aftermath of the flood. He and Jeff Dutch, another board member, got a pump and some hoses and drained the water level down overnight. The next day, they looked around to see the extent of the damage.

What they saw was daunting.

“We noticed that the ceilings had come down. The warm, moist air had caused mildew problems,” Gordon said. “The water had done a pretty serious job.”

Damage to the club’s upper level, where the bar and the warm room are located, was mostly confined to the floors. The ice area, where curling happens, is OK. But on the lower level, where the locker rooms, machinery and storage rooms are located, the damage was bad enough that much of it had to be gutted. A professional demolition and cleaning crew worked for several weeks to clean out the lower floor, using commercial dehumidifiers, vacuums and more to prevent more mildew from forming.

The club has insurance, although it won’t cover all of the costs to repair and renovate, Gordon said. Due to the extent of the damage, additional renovations are necessary to bring the facility up to modern code standards.

“The tricky part is that nothing is grandfathered,” he said. “Codes have changed dramatically over the last 20 to 30 years.”

The club will have to install a second form of egress from the lower level and construct an ADA compliant restroom on the lower level, among other requirements. Other renovations may not be required, but seem like a smart idea to do now, he said. Those include consolidating a lot of the equipment and putting in a small pro shop to sell some curling gear.

Steve West, the club president, said that the goal is to reopen in time for next winter’s curling season.

“We’re going to get it done and it will be open for curling in November, for sure,” he said.

West and Gordon both said that if any group can be counted on to rise to the occasion, it’s the people who belong to the Belfast Curling Club. Curling, which originated in Scotland in the 16th century, is one of the world’s oldest team sports and has been a medal sport in the Winter Olympics since the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan.

In it, teams vie against each other to score points as people slide 42-pound granite stones to the other side of the ice sheet. Players vigorously sweep the ice with brooms to keep the stones moving.

The Belfast Curling Club is one of the longest-established places to play the game in Maine. It was brought to the city in the 1950s by Dr. Norman Cobb, who first practiced medicine in Calais and learned to curl in neighboring St. Stephen, New Brunswick. The club opened its doors in 1959, and today boasts around 175 active members, Gordon said. They come from as far afield as Bangor, Bath, Mount Desert Island and the Belgrade Lakes region to curl in Belfast.

During the winter season, the club hosts a half dozen bonspiels, which bring hundreds of people to try their luck and skill on the ice, and then enjoy the camaraderie in the clubhouse.

Love of the sport brings a lot of people together who might have diverse political views and work backgrounds, Gordon said. In a polarized world, curling is a unifying activity.

“Sometimes groups that are that diverse have a hard time to just sit together and chat,” he said. “But it’s amazing. We’ll just sit together and chat and have a wonderful time. It’s really neat. That’s something that we enjoy as curlers, and that makes the club very strong.”  

Although curling club members don’t yet know exactly how much it will cost to repair the building and bring it up to current code standards, they are gearing up for a big fundraising campaign. A GoFundMe has so far raised only about $6,500 of a $148,000 goal, but West is confident that those who love the sport and the club will find a way to make it happen.

“We have a great board of directors, a great membership group,” he said. “We will certainly make it happen.”

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