Second Bite: Municipal Rink Returns Before Voters As Select Board OKs Debt Exclusion On Town Election Ballot

Photo: Members of the Municipal Skating Rink Building Committee before the Select Board Feb. 6

The Belmont Select Board unanimously approved a ballot question on the April 4 annual Town Election to allow residents to vote on a debt exclusion to pay for a new, year-round municipal rink and sports facility, replacing the current Concord Avenue facility that was called “effectively dead.”

“This is not about an old rink and a new rink. This is about a new rink or no rink,” said Adam Dash, at the board’s Monday, Feb. 6 meeting.

This will be a second bite at the apple for the new rink after the initial proposal went down to defeat, 6,051 to 5,710, in the 2022 November general election.

The decision by the Select Board was not surprising as the night it was defeated, the board’s chair, Mark Paolillo said the closeness of the vote and the deteriorating condition of the existing 55-year-old rink would likely see the board revisit a possible debt exclusion.

What pushed the effort to fund a new rink was a month of dramas at the rink as warm weather and faulty equipment delayed the rinks opening and operations by more than a month. The headaches started with leaking condensers, the chiller that is about to fail, and finding an existing refrigerant supply that the US EPA has banned. On top of mechanical issue, an unusually warm late fall prevented rink ice to properly form as the building’s envelop is open to the outside elements. It took nearly a net of $30,000 in emergency town funds and a cold snap to get the rink up and running for the 2022-3 season.

And the price tag to allow the rink to open next fall in its current consition will be $275,000, said Ted Galante, the project’s architect. That doesn’t include the cost replacing numerous systems that are about to fail in the near future: plumbing, HVAC, the hot water heater, and it’s compromised electrical system.

When asked by Paolillo by if he would invest in the existing structure, Galante’s answer was unequivocal: “No.”

“The rink’s broken. I think it’s effectively dead. We can live through March and that’s probably the end of it,” said Dash.

The Building Committee presented the board with a 2.0 version of the past design, a leaner, cleaner, and less expensive second look at the proposal defeated by approximately 350 votes three months previous.

“This building is kept very simple,” said Galante, noting a low-sloping roof with $1.1 million of solar panels, and an entry that will have visual access to Concord Avenue and the playing fields west of Harris Field.

The most significant change is it will be “brand new” with no attempt to keep recycling the steel beams or other recoverable material. This will allow the structure to be reduced in size from 48,000 sq. ft. to 40,313 sq. ft. in a rectangular-shaped building located slightly north of the existing rink. The rink will occupy 30,000 sq. ft. Cost reductions from the original proposal include eliminating the proposed 3,000 sq. ft. observation mezzanine, 1,000 sq. ft. space for the DPW, and leaving the White Field House in place. The new shape will allow for possible future buildout when the White Field House is removed.

The entry to the new municipal skating rink

“I think what’s come out [of the latest design] was fantastic. I think it’s an efficient, clean design that provides what’s needed,” said Roy Epstein of the Select Board.

While there are design cuts from the first design, “we should be clear that the program that we’re putting forward has not been compromised,” said Tom Caputo, member of the building committee, as the rink will still have four dressing rooms – mostly for hockey events – and four locker rooms designed to serve the various different sports throughout the fall, winter, and spring that are currently in the Field House.

Galante said this structure would be a year-round operation, which will allow the town’s Recreation Department will offer activities such as town camp activity and possibly tennis courts during the seven months the rink will be without ice, an idea advocated by neighbor Anne Paulson.

The total cost of the new proposal is $29,953,000 million, a reduction of $5.1 million from the original cost defeated in November. Supporters are hopeful to reduce the total cost fronted by taxpayers with fundraisers and business donations.

“What the town needs to hear is that this is not just a skating rink,” said Building Committee Chair Mark Haley, noting how the structure serves the high school teams, the Recreation Department, and as a staging area for events such as road races and community functions.

Epstein said he sees a new rink as a community asset as the Underwood Pool was when it was rebuilt in 2015. “When we built a new, modern pool, membership rocketed, he said, noting that as a 12 month facility usage will increase with those who don’t skate or play hockey.

“This is going to serve our community. It’s going to be an addition to our town,” said Dante Muzzioli of the Building Committee.

If passed in April, Haley said the demolition of the existing rink would take place immediately after the vote – with the assistance of town funding – which will cause the youth and high school hockey programs to lose only a single season as the new structure could open as early as the late fall of 2024.

“I think voters need to decide based on all this new information, this new design and the lower cost,” said Dash. “And if it’s no, then the people have spoken.

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  1. Teri Williams Valentine says

    I am concerned about this going back to voters so close to the time of its defeat in the last town election. This seems contrary to the democratic process and the will of the voters. Does the town have a precedent of brining back proposals in successive elections, contrary to voter will?

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