School Committee OKs Exploring Private/Public Rink Partnership

Photo: Select Board Chair Tom Caputo and Assistant Town Administrator Jon Marshall.

After the Belmont School Committee voted unanimously Tuesday, June 4 to move forward with a private/public partnership to build a new town skating rink, Select Board Chair Tom Caputo said the vote was the “easy part.”

The hard part, he noted, is coming in two weeks.

With the Select Board likely following the School Committee’s lead supporting the partnership at its Wednesday meeting, Caputo said the next step for the School Committee to providing Town Administrator Patrice Garvin’s office “some guidance” on the size and location of the rink when the town creates a “request for proposal” that developers will bid on.

“Are there some specific things that folks would like to see or hear or investigate in the time that between now and then that would help inform that conversation,” Caputo asked the committee members after voting to explore a public/partner arrangement.

What is going to make this phase of the committee’s work difficult is due to an extremely tight timeline to get all their concerns and suggestions to the town.

“We don’t have a lot of time,” said Caputo, since the work identifying the major issues that need to be resolved to satisfy the committee members that the partnership is doable must be completed in just two weeks when the School Committee meets for the final time until the new school year in September.

Jon Marshall, assistant town administrator noted to the committee, representatives from his office and the Office of Community Development will require at least the summer to write an RFP has the dual challenges of writing a financial worthy project while encapsulating the advice from the School Committee.

“I think that the challenge that we will have, as a group, as we go through this process is putting on the table the hopes and expectations that we have in the RFP and prioritizing them as to non-negotiable to flexible items, and then finding out what we are at the end and then to avoid that area,” said John Phelan, Belmont Superintendent.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the committee members raised several prominent issues they wanted to be investigated, a major one being whether the project requires a regular sized rink with an adjacent half rink to be financially viable.

Another concern the committee wants to place in an RFP is a requirement that the project doesn’t reduce the three playing fields that will abut the new project. Committee member Tara Donner said there should be some effort either in the RFP or during the that supports a rink with ice sheets two levels to reduce the building’s footprint.

Belmont School Committee member Tara Donner

Marshal said it’s likely that the RFP can be written in such a way that bidders will be encouraged to tackle the space of the building and how it impacts the number of fields.

Other issues were the availability of parking, traffic pattern changes with a new structure, and hours of operation needed to support the business plan.

While a number of residents at a public meeting a week previous voiced a myriad of issues with a prink – including pay the rink’s estimated $8 to $10 million price tag – the School Committee was fairly unified in its support to at least thoroughly investigate the private/public proposal over other options.

“[W]e need to at least explore the possibility of this low-cost option,” said Micheal Crowley who said residents have taken on the financial burden of a new school and the likelihood of an override next spring.

While echoing Crowley’s statement, fellow member Andrea Prestwich said her support is conditional with the knowledge that if the proposals do not satisfy the board’s direction and specific worries, “we have the right to say ‘no’.”

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