State ‘Very Likely’ To Provide $750K Rink Earmark As Special Town Meeting To Determine Project’s Fate

Photo: The Municipal Skating Rink Building Committee at the public forum held Wednesday, May 22. Town Moderator Mike Widmer (center) led the event

With a critical Town Meeting vote on the future of the proposed Municipal Skating Rink two weeks away, some much-needed good news for the beleaguered rink project came in the form of a $750,000 state budget appropriation shepherded to the town by State Sen. Will Brownsberger.

The announcement of the last-minute state budget earmark came the same day as a community forum held by the Municipal Skating Rink Building Committee on Wednesday, May 22, at Town Hall. It was also just two days after the Belmont Select Board approved a Special Town Meeting to vote to close a $2.1 million expense overage in the project’s original $29.9 million price tag.

“We got some good news related to the state budget,” Rink Building Committee member Tom Caputo told the two dozen residents at the meeting. While a final state budget won’t be approved by July, “if the town approves the natural refrigerants for the rink [at the Special Town Meeting], the town can count on receiving $750,000 from the state to cover the expenditure.”

The new rink will be equipped with a $650,000 CO2 refrigerant system. Popular in Canada, the carbon dioxide technology, while nearly twice as expensive as the standard Freon gas-based system, is considered environmentally superior. Due to its impact on global warming, Freon is expected to face strict limits or outright bans in the next decade.

If funds are left over after the CO2 system is paid for, it’s possible the rest can be carried to “cover other environmental compliance costs,” said Caputo, adding that Brownsberger will come before the Special Town Meeting “to share this in person.”

It is still unclear what percentage of the state funding can be used to reduce the rink’s shortfall. After Wednesday’s meeting, Town Administrator Patrice Garvin said her office and the Select Board – which has the ultimate authority on how much town funds will be requested in the article – are creating a plan that will allocate the greatest amount to the project.

When answering a question on Wednesday by Town Meeting member Jack Weis (Precinct 1) if receiving the state funding will reduce the deficit from $2.1 to $1.4 million, Caputo said, “[i]t’s safe to say a significant portion of it will be used to reduce the ‘ask’ of town’s funds.”

Wednesday’s funding announcement is the first bit of positive news for the building committee, which has been scrabbling for the past three months to drain the $5.1 million in red ink.

Cost drivers skyrocketed

At the Monday, May 20 Select Board meeting, Building Committee Chair Mark Haley and members Caputo and Dante Muzzioli reiterated how the building project is facing a shortfall. According to Haley, the rink project was affected by unprecedented increases in material and labor costs, unforeseen toxic waste discoveries, site complications, and schedule delays.

The most significant impact of the escalating expenses in the past year resulted from a cost explosion in materials, labor, and services between September 2023 and February 2024, which saw the cost skyrocket to $35.1 million. According to Haley, the rink’s top four cost drivers include:

  • $740,000 in General Requirements, including general contractor Skanska’s labor,
  • $700,000 for site work,
  • $550,000 in additional costs for concrete and
  • $450,000 for masonry work.

When you add a few more line items that saw double-digit increases, the project experienced a rise of $3.4 million to the bottom line “in just trade costs and labor,” Haley said.

Faced with a need to cut costs quickly, the building committee began a value engineering process. But unlike most construction projects, an athletic facility doesn’t have much excess to cut: Haley said the building is “basically a box” with a few rooms and mechanical areas.

Municipal Skating Rink Building Committee members Anne Marie Mahoney and Chair Mark Haley.

After the revision, the committee approved two significant changes: the main lobby will be removed, reducing the structure by about 2,500 sq. ft., and the proposed solar array that would supply power to the facility will not be installed, saving $1.2 million.

On the plus side, Option A will have all the programming supporters promised in the original design: four locker rooms to replace those lost in the razing of the White Field House, recreational storage, bathrooms that can be used when the rink is not in use, a skate rental/sharpening shop, a concession stand, and four dressing rooms.

Having value-engineered a total of $3.3 million in savings, the building committee discussed with town officials helping to foot the remaining shortfall. Garvin advised the Select Board an inactive town account named after the insurance settlement from a fire at the former Kendall School is available as a source. The $2.1 million account was created to meet future capital needs, which is seen as an appropriate use for the rink.

If the Special Town Meeting rejects the June 10 article, Haley said it’s now clear to observers that a barebones facility will not attract the support of the committee or the community to move forward.

“There is no Option B. It’s either the rink we promised or nothing,” said Haley after Wednesday’s meeting.

Opinion: A ‘Yes’ Vote For A New Rink Is A Choice For A Better Future

Photo: Poster of the ‘Yes for the Rinkcampaign

By Sheryl Grace, Kayla Wiggin, Lucinda Zuniga

On November 8th, Belmont voters have the chance to save two community assets by voting yes on the Debt Exclusion for the rink and field sports facilities. The Skip Viglirolo Rink and White Field House are both well beyond their useful lives. Reports dating back to 1999 document the code issues and decaying nature of the buildings leading the town to identify these buildings as part of the infrastructure plan along with many other facilities in Belmont. The identified facilities were treated with only small Band-Aids over the past 20 years because larger Band-Aids would have cost more and still not enabled the buildings to come off of the list. Belmont has chipped away at the list completing fire stations, schools, town buildings, the pool, etc. It is now down to the rink, field house and library.  

Twenty plus years after the infrastructure list was created, the rink and White Field House are on the brink of being shuttered. The Youth Valley League already pulled out of using the rink deeming it unfit. This means that the Belmont Youth Hockey program does not have any home games in Belmont. Other skating clubs have stopped using the rink as well. The White Field House was slated to be demolished because its issues are beyond treatment and when the initial number of parking spaces requested for the new high school was made, a plan to use the field house land was hatched. Because of pandemic related cost increases related to the high school project, the demolition did not happen. This is fortunate as there was no plan for replacing the functions of the field house. The high school football, hockey, ski and lacrosse teams would currently be without a locker room and the Department of Public Works would be without storage for field maintenance equipment. 

It is very important for citizens to understand that the use of these buildings cannot be extended with even large Band-Aids for very far into the future. When shuttered, there will be a significant cost to demolish and remediate the site; football, hockey, ski, and boys lacrosse will lose the use of a locker room area for storing their sports equipment; 400 BYHA families will be driving to other rinks the entire season; the Belmont High School hockey teams will look to the school and town budgets for the $250,000 or more each year to pay for ice time and transportation; the BHS hockey teams will have either very early or very late practice times and no longer benefit from the support of a hometown crowd; the women’s and men’s hockey leagues and the S.P.O.R.T. program that use the rink will be displaced; the public skates, puck-n’-sticks and PTA skating events will cease. 

On November 8th, Belmont has the chance to choose a better future scenario that will not only avoid the aforementioned outcomes but benefit the community greatly. The planned building will combine the current functions of the rink and White Field House, provide new functions, and be more energy and cost efficient to operate. The new functions include locker room opportunities for field sports. Many currently have no place to put their backpacks during practice or an indoor space for team discussions which is particularly unfortunate when it is torrentially raining. The building will provide bathrooms, concessions and a warming space for events in the rink and on the adjacent fields. A room above the front community area will provide additional viewing of the rink and fields to the west and be available for rental. Should the ice sheet be removed in the summer, the space would be available for Recreation Department programming which has not been possible for the past 15 years because of issues with the current sublayer of the ice. 

The cost, while not finalized, has been projected to be around $30 million. This is more than the cost of a “rink in the box” because it includes the required demolition and site remediation; design work to create a building that includes all the features requested by the Select Board that does not encroach on the fields west of the rink; a structure strong enough to support solar on the roof; the solar panels; and the green space and parking near the building. The new functions that are included in the new building that are not in the existing buildings enable support of more student athletes and enhance the energy efficiency and revenue potential of the space. Based on past ballot measures, the estimated debt translates into about $300 additional in property taxes per year for a median valued home for the duration of the debt. (This tax figure is an estimate and has not been officially provided by the Assessor’s office.) 

It is envisioned that the facility will be like other town-owned rinks in nearby communities that are revenue neutral or revenue generating. Income will come from ice rental by the Belmont Youth Hockey, mens and womens leagues, skate rental for public skate, the Valley League, nearby private schools, club programs, and recreation department programs. The building will service more than 800 student athletes a year through the youth and high school sport programs as well as all in the community that attend their games at the rink or adjacent fields. Thriving youth and high school sports programs feed community pride and are a sign of a healthy, vibrant town.

We hope that Belmont supports this tradition by voting yes on Ballot Question 6, the Debt Exclusion for the rink and field sports facilities. 

Sheryl Grace, Kayla Wiggin & Lucinda Zuniga are co-chairs of the Yes For the Rink

New Skating Rink Proposal Secures $200K In ARPA Funds To Keep Project Moving Forward; Public Meeting On Aug. 17

Photo: The location of the new skating rink on Concord Avenue

In an effort to prevent the proposed Municipal Skating Rink project grinding to a halt, the Belmont Select Board approved on Monday, Aug. 8, the use of $200,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding to allow the design team to begin hiring subcontractors to allow work on the facility to continue.

This additional funding comes as the project awaits a debt exclusion vote on Nov. 8 to pay for the new 46,000 sq.-ft. skating facility on Concord Avenue adjacent to Belmont High School’s Harris Field.

“We’d like to have an interim fund that will get us to sometime in October,” said Mark Haley, chair of the rink skating committee told the board Monday.

A public forum on the new skating rink facility hosted by the rink will take place remotely on Wednesday, August 17 at 6 p.m. A Zoom link and the meeting agenda can be found here.

Haley reiterated comments from when the Select Board put the debt exclusion on the ballot on July 28 that the project would need additional funds. Preliminary work on the rink beginning in the spring of 2022 after the town secured $250,000 in state ARPA funding. As of the first week in August, $95,000 remain from that initial amount.

Haley told the board the additional funding will allow the design team – headed by architect Ted Galante of Ted Galante Architecture Studio – to hire structural and mechanical engineers to firm up the price tag for the rink, which all sides agreed is a critical component before the vote in November. Currently, the list price to replace the antiquated “Skip” Vigilrolo rink has been calculated around $32-$34 million.

More detailed schematic drawings – for plumbing and interior design – will allow Galante to firm up the price of the new rink. “It sounds like a lot of money, but we’re at a point where [Galante] needs to bring on all these outside people to get the information we need” on the building as well as the parking and landscaping,” said Ann Marie Mahoney, a member of the building committee.

“So for us to have a really good and solid number to start advertising for the debt exclusion, we really need to do this and do it now,” said Mahoney.

In addition, the project will be able to quickly move from design to construction soon after the debt is “hopeful” passed by the voters, said Haley.

With a successful debt exclusion, the ARPA funds will be reimbursed to the town, said Haley. Even if the ballot question is defeated, this additional funding will be spent on necessary work such as the demolition of the White Field House and parking and field designs.

Initially, Haley sought $300,000 in ARPA funds which was reduced by $100,000 after the Select Board member Adam Dash said, while OK with providing this transfer, ”I’m just concerned that $300,000 was a little higher than I was expecting.”

In a compromise, the amount approved was lowered to $200,000 with the board placing on its Aug. 29 meeting agenda a possible vote on releasing an additional $100,000 for necessary design work. As part of the agreement, the building committee will inform both Town Moderator Mike Widmer and the Select Board on a biweekly basis “what we are spending and we’ll try to bring it in less than that,” said Haley.

”We want to be to the extent possible as detailed as possible in terms of what we report out to the community on this build,” said Mark Paolillo, select board chair. ”The more refined [the cost] we be on the expected cost and to inform the residents about that, the better.”