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The sound of balls hitting the pins will soon be reverberating throughout Maples Lanes again. Co-owner Rich Eighme is anxiously waiting for the day when the iconic Waterloo bowling alley reopens.

Work to restore Maple Lanes has been progressing steadily since Feb. 4, 2020, when an early morning arson fire heavily damaged the building and its contents. Eighme said probably less than 30-percent of the bowling center's square footage was directly impacted, but the remainder of the building was affected by what burnt. The fire caused millions of dollars in damage.

Eighme is anticipating an early- to mid-June reopening, depending on how fast the final stages of construction progress. There are currently six or seven different crews working similtaneously to finish the work -- drywallers, electricians, plumbers and QubicaAMF officials putting in the lanes and pin-setting machines.

"Companies are putting in the ceiling grids and the flooring and they are all doing so around each other," Eighme said. "It's interesting. Everyday that goes by, there's a little more complete. Even the exterior, they are putting the siding on as we speak today.

"It's starting to go from concept to drawing to blue print to three-dimensional reality," Eighme said. "It's quite an exciting time."

When Maple Lanes reopens, it will look much different than in the past.

"For bowlers who were used to Maple Lanes, there's quite a bit of difference from the standpoint of what the lanes are going to look like," Eighme explained. "Obviously, they are in the same proximity and facing the same direction. Because of a change we decided to make to the bar area, the blueprint itself is very different. Bathrooms are in different locations. The front desk and pro shop are in very different locations.

"The big change is going to be the two-story bar, which will be on the west end where the old pro shop and front desk was," Eighme said. "We added 20-some feet to the west to create a two-story bar with some amenities up in the mezzanine that will include billiard tables, darts, pinball and things of that nature. Below will be four duckpin lanes."

Duckpin is a variation of the game of bowling, which requires a smaller ball with no finger holes. The lanes aren't as long as standard lanes, and the pins are shorter and squattier.

"Just because you're a good bowler, it doesn't give you an advantage on the duckpin side," Eighme said. "We feel that is going to be a very interesting attraction. You have to go to Indiana to actually see duckpin in action. With the exception of going south into Texas, duckpin is a game that kind of stayed in the northeast in the colonial states and southern Canada. It never migrated like 10-pin did in the long history of bowling."

Maple Lanes had 32 lanes before the fire. The renovated venue will feature 28 lanes, along with four duckpin lanes. Outside, there are plans to add a beer garden, seating and some sand volleyball courts.

"When you've been in the bowling business one way shape or form as long as I have, you see a lot of neat things around the country. What we've tried to do at Maple Lanes -- given the ability to start over -- is take all the neat and cool things that we've seen over the years and try to bring them to the Cedar Valley," said Eighme, who started bowling at age five and 30 years later became the youngest inductee into the Waterloo Bowling Hall-of-Fame. "It will be very neat to have a bowling center that is very much organized bowling and league bowling first, along with recreational bowling when there's time on the weekends."

About 30 people worked at Maple Lanes prior to the fire. When the business reopens with a larger restaurant and bar, Eighme expects to have close to 50 mostly part-time employees.

Eighme said the remodeled venue will have other fun attractions that are designed to draw people who may not like the game of bowling, but could find themselves attracted to the food and some of the other attractions that the bar will offer.

"When it's done, we're planning an appreciation soft opening when we're going to say 'thank-you' to all the crews and the companies that have made this happen," Eighme said. "We're also planning something for the Cedar Valley with a couple of soft openings, so that when we open the doors, we're ready to go and we have an idea of where to go. You don't know what the future holds, but I think that coming out of COVID, people are ready to get back to some form of normality."

Although the projected unveiling for Maple Lanes is expected in June, league bowling won't return to the venue until fall. The fire displaced 46 leagues. All of them were forced to relocate to Waterloo's other bowling alley, Cadillac XBC (also co-owned by Eighme). Maple's league bowlers will continue to compete there through the summer.

"I don't want our spring and summer leagues affected by the potential delays that can commonly happen in the construction business," Eighme said. "I think that's the right decision. That will allow us to get through all the bugs and adjustments that we need to go through here to make sure that ... we're ready to service the customer the way we feel they should be serviced.

"It's been an adjustment, but our league bowlers have been fantastic in working with us," Eighme said. "We had a couple of leagues that literally changed the night they bowled. They split seasons for us. The Cedar Valley and the bowling community have been absolutely fantastic. To say that it's been one big happy family -- I don't know if it's always been happy -- but there's nothing like the bowling community. They have come together and rallied to our aide. I couldn't thank them more, and the Cedar Valley in general."

Eighme admits the past 14 months have been difficult for local bowlers, with only 36 lanes at Cadillac serving the entire community.

"We've experienced Friday and Saturday nights where there's waiting lists and persons having to wait to come in an be entertained," Eighme said. "For the most part, that has been very positive. The Cedar Valley, the city of Waterloo and all the residents have been fantastic through this entire situation."

EXCLUSIVE: A Look Inside Waterloo's Maple Lanes

Work to restore the iconic bowling center has been progressing steadily since an early morning arson fire on Feb. 4, 2020, heavily damaged the building and its contents. Co-owner Rich Eighme is anticipating an early- to mid-June reopening, depending on how fast the final stages of construction progress. In recent weeks, six or seven different construction crews have been working simultaneously to finish the work. Here's a look at the progress being made.

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