Photo: “Skip” Viglirolo Skating Rink.
It’s the worst kept secret in Belmont: a proposal to build a new private/public skating rink and field house on the site of the existing nearly half century old “Skip” Viglirolo rink and the White Field House adjacent to Harris Field off Concord Avenue.
Not that this latest news required a “spoiler” alert for its official unveiling at a big joint meeting at the Chenery Middle School on Tuesday, Sept. 8, as information surrounding the proposal has leaked to the public over the summer.
According to four separate sources, the project – final cost is still to be determined but its likely several million dollars – to replace the existing structures have been on the minds of many for decades.
Now, after recent examples of private donors using their wallets and connects to successfully improve, maintain or rebuild municipal and school properties – laying down the new varsity court in the Wenner Field House being the latest – a new group has set their sights on what many consider a town asset that has seen its best days pass it by, the “Skip” Viglirolo Skating Rink.
Built in 1969 during the rise of the Boston Bruins and Bobby Orr, the rink’s limitations and faults are legendary to visitors, players and parents. The physical structure was never fully constructed with heavy sheet metal side walls with gaping openings that allow both the weather – whether it is blistering cold or spring time warmth – and birds to migrate inside.
There is no heat or comfortable seating for viewers; the locker rooms are old, and the lighting is far from adequate while the only “warm up” space for spectators is the small snack room.
Editor’s note: One visitor from Calgary, Canada – no stranger to wind swept blizzard conditions – told the Belmontonian editor in 2002 there were warmer outdoor rinks in his hometown than the indoor Viglirolo rink.
But despite its threadbare condition, the rink is an asset to the town and hockey programs from beginners to high school varsity programs, providing a place to skate and practice at an affordable price.
“Many towns would die to have its own rink,” said one
In addition, the White Field House – dedicated to a Belmont High alum who died during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 – while structurally sound, doesn’t provide space for the large number of female athletes who could use a changing area adjacent to the main athletic field.
In past documents, town officials and Capital Budgets placed the rink was one of the town’s major capital expenses that required addressing.
The sources – all who spoke on background as they promised not to reveal the proposal – said a spokesperson representing a group of residents advanced an initial proposal in early 2015 to a Financial Task Force subcommittee during the later stages of its tenure. to replace the dilapidated rink with a new structure and provide a new field house using private fund.
The initial response from town and government committees was enthusiastic yet guarded. While the outline was interesting, the group was told much more work needed to be done in both how the deal would be financed and, just as important, provide greater detail concerning the governance and use of the facility once it is built.
Recently, a dispute has been brewing in Wilmington over the Ristuccia Arena, constructed with the town’s help in the 1980s to provide access to town youth and adult hockey programs, which is accused of now catering to professional hockey teams, private school programs and elite skating clubs over local interests.
The private group returned in late July for a formal presentation to the Belmont Board of Selectmen with representatives of town departments and the Captial Budget and Warrant committees as well as the Planning Board in attendance.
Highlights of the proposal:
- A new rink design will require taking some land from surrounding practice fields using by Belmont High School and youth sports programs.
- The design of the rink and field house will allow for on-site parking, which will relieve traffic and parking congestion along Concord Avenue.
- The town will benefit financially from the rink’s hourly rental fee that will be an income
- Belmont Savings Bank will take a major role in financing the proposal.
While the Selectmen, department heads and governmental committees who attended the presentation came away eager to move forward with the plan, the land on which the rink and field house reside is “owned” by the Belmont School Committee. The six-member committee will need to sign off on any proposal to see it advance from the blueprint stage.
This marks the second time the School Committee will be asked to allow land assigned to athletic fields to be used for a development; in May 2013, the committee denied a request from the Library Board of Trustees to use a small section of the same playing field for a proposed $19 million library.
While nearly all is enthused about the proposal, all sides decided to keep a somewhat tight lid on the plan in deference to the School Department who will have the first say about whether the proposal will work or not.
“We don’t want a repeat of the library fiasco,” said one source.