Opinion: A Privately Funded Rink the Fiscally-Responsible Choice

By Ellen Schreiber

I’ve read several columns and postings about the new Belmont Youth Hockey skating rink proposal that are missing key information.

As a member of the Warrant Committee, charged with analyzing the town budget, I believe a new, privately funded rink is the only fiscally responsible choice for Belmont. (Note: The Warrant Committee has not reviewed the proposal. As an individual, I attended the School Committee discussion.)                                                        

Here is the information I heard at the rink presentation that is missing from the public debate. 

1. Privately Funded: Building a new rink would be entirely privately funded by generous citizens. No budget impact. No tax increase. This money is not available for other town projects and would not take away from other town priorities.

2. Rink failure: Engineering analysis confirmed that the only remaining compressor and piping are on the verge of failing. Systemic failure cannot be cheaply fixed and is at the bottom of the town’s capital spending priority list. 

3. Budget Impact: When the rink breaks, the school budget will incur more than $200,000 annually to rent ice time for Belmont High School hockey teams. Practically, there are no rinks in communities surrounding Belmont with available after school hours, so that $200,000 recurring budget item would likely yield practice times as late as 10 p.m.

4. Business Plan: Donors would loan the money to build the rink and absorb 100 percent of the risk, not the town. Rentals would fund loan repayment, which is well understood because Belmont Youth Hockey currently pays market rent for 75 percent of the ice time, which would continue.

5. Budget Savings: The Belmont budget would no longer be responsible for rink operations, maintenance or repairs; new rink operations will fund them.

6. Ownership: The rink is a school-owned facility, and the new site would remain school-owned property.

7. New High School: The rink would move to the western edge of school property. This removes a physical barrier in the middle of school land, which creates more options for BHS site planning.

8. Timing: This project could be completed in two years, long before a new high school could be built. It would not get in the way.

9. No Loss of Fields: The old rink site would be converted into new, better fields to replace the old softball and practice fields, with no net loss of fields. Community Preservation Act money could fund the field conversion. CPA funds must be used for recreation, open space, affordable housing or historic preservation and cannot be used for schools, libraries, or police stations.

10. BHS Hockey Teams: Rink failure would be devastating to the high school program – rental costs are high, rink time is scarce, and practices would be late-night. With a new rink, BHS teams would continue to get first-choice ice times for free.

11. Belmont Youth Hockey: BYHA is leading this project to create a modern, reliable rink to serve better the town. They would receive no financial consideration and would continue to pay market rates for rental.

I’ve done a lot of fundraising. I’ve led a lot of volunteer projects. This level of private contribution is rare. Belmont is lucky to have donors and volunteers willing to make this happen.

I believe that Belmont should move forward with this opportunity as soon as the necessary details can be worked out.

Ellen Schreiber is a Town Meeting Member, a member of the Warrant Committee, secretary of the Underwood Pool Building Committee, co-chair of the Joey’s Park rebuild and hockey mom.

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