NORFOLK — The big stone chimney was one of the few things still standing after the devastating arson fire that destroyed the Norfolk Curling Club in December 2011.
When the members decided to build a new club, there was some sentimental thought that the old stones could be salvaged and used for a new chimney and fireplace. But with the club scrambling to find money to rebuild, using them proved, sadly, to be too expensive.
Still, there is part of the old club in the new. Two halves of broken curling stones retrieved from the ruins were mortared into the fireplace hearth, with the year "2013" carved into them. Above the hearth, the club's logo is carved into a piece of bluestone, also salvaged from the old club's hearth.
Old photos adorn the walls of the new club's warming room. The old dehumidifier got cranked up last week. The ice is ready. The bar is stocked. From fire to ice — that's the club's motto — the Norfolk Curling Club is ready to have its grand opening Sunday from 1-4 p.m. The public is invited.
"We tried to replicate as much as we could — the ambience of the old club — but you can't," said former club president and current board member Bill Graulty of West Stockbridge, Mass. "This is brand new; that was built in 1956. Our bar is bigger, a little more comfortable, we're much better organized."
The 70 or so active members, along with the rest of the curling community who had spent time in the cozy little club (one of two in Connecticut), were devastated the night of Dec. 17, 2011, when two men went on a destructive rampage through Norfolk. In addition to burning down the curling club, they broke into houses, set fire to an unoccupied home and destroyed town signs and construction equipment, causing a total of $1.7 million in damage, according to police reports. Matthew Carey and Kyle Majewski were each sentenced to 10 years in prison last December.
Jon Barbagallo, a volunteer firefighter and a member of the curling club since he was 12, came upon the scene at 1 a.m. on Dec. 18, just in time to hear the sounds of the 42-pound granite curling stones exploding. The club had been his winter home away home for 25 years; he was pretty devastated.
But this week, he had new, better worries. Barbagallo is the club's icemaker (he and his father went to school to learn how to make curling ice, an extensive and painstaking process), and he wants to make sure his ice is ready for the club's first tournament, or bonspiel, which will take place Dec. 5-8.
"This weekend's going to be fun," he said of the grand opening. "But it's in two weeks when we get the real curlers in here and get people out on the ice and get real feedback from folks who have been in 50 other curling clubs as to what they like. For me, especially, making the ice. My reputation is on that ice.
"I have nothing to base my ice-making skills on. The old club, I knew the process. Here, every process I learned at the old place is just thrown right out the window. The overall process is the same. I knew what temperatures to set the compressors to. I knew where the high and low spots in the concrete were. Here, there are 50 more variables."
Now he has a new compressor, complete with digital controls (the old one was a relic from the Torrington Creamery) to make the ice. On Wednesday, Barbagallo was still putting finishing touches on the ice, spraying another layer of water onto the surface.
"We try to be pretty particular," he said. "People don't want to go to clubs with bad ice. You can have the most watered-down liquor and the highest expenses to get into a tournament and they'll overlook that. But if they don't have fun and the ice isn't good and the rocks aren't good, they're not going to come back."
Since all the curling stones were destroyed, the club had to buy two new sets of 16 stones, financed through a program with the U.S. Curling Association.
The kitchen — much bigger than the old kitchen — passed the health department check Wednesday. The lockers, donated by Northwestern Regional High School, needed to be bolted onto walls. There were tables borrowed from the country club next door in the bar area. There was hope the fireplace — they were still working on the chimney — would be ready for Sunday's opening.
"We keep finding [things to do]; 'Oh crap, we need to do this,' " Barbagallo said. "Like coat hooks in the coat rooms. Just little stuff."
"There's so much to do before the weekend, we've been trying to get it all done," club president Mary Fanette said. "At that point, I think I will relax."
So many people helped get the club rebuilt. The national curling community. The people of Norfolk. The club members who gave countless hours of their time and effort. Curling season is around the corner. The Olympics, when curling clubs always get a boost in their membership, are in February. Norfolk is ready to curl.
"We wouldn't be standing here in this building if it weren't for those dedicated determined members," Fanette said. "It's not the old club, but it's something even the old people will appreciate, and new people definitely will."