James Paul White Field House Now A Memory As Belmont Remembered Namesake’s Sacrifice [VIDEO]

Photo: James Paul White (center) in an undated photo

It was 79 years nearly to the day when 19-year-old James Paul White was killed during the Battle of the Bulge on Dec. 21, 1944, as a small group of local veterans, residents, and town officials gathered on Monday, Dec. 18, in torrential wind and rain to remember White and the building bearing his name which in a few hours would be reduced to rubble.

During the height of the worst late winter storm in recent years, Belmont Middle and High School Building Committee Chair Bill Lovallo and Belmont’s Police Chief James MacIsaac spoke as workers for Skanska USA made final preparations to demolish the historic building to begin the construction of the town’s new $30 million skating rink and community center. The multipurpose facility is scheduled to open in the spring of 2025.

“Today, we’re representing and going to thank James Paul White for his dedication to Belmont,” said Lovallo.

Belmont’s Police Chief James MacIsaac

MacIsaac read from his history of White – “a gifted athlete and outstanding student” – and the field house dedicated to him in May 1948.

MacIsaac’s in-depth tribute to White and the Field House can be found here.

“We should remember that 83 other Belmont residents were killed in World War II and [the field house] represents those other 83 young men,” said MacIsaac.

A plaque honoring White that was located at the field house’s entrance has been removed and will be relocated.

The demolition began just after 10 a.m. when a blast from an air gun announced the beginning of the end for the venerable structure that served Belmont High School athletes as changing room and coaches quarters for three-quarters of a century.

Workers at the site said it would take little time for the mostly cement structure to come down, and they were spot on. A lone excavator began ripping through the building from the back of the facility near the rink. By noon, the street facing façade collapsed after a well-placed hit from the excavator’s arm.

“One down, one to go,” said a worker viewing the aftermath and pointing to the ‘Skip’ Viglorolo Rink feet from where the field house stood. The half-century skating facility is scheduled to be brought down a couple of weeks into the New Year.

Before and after

Four Draft Skating Rink Designs Revealed At Public Feedback Meeting

Photo: Steel beams in the current rink that could be used in a new rink.

After being selected as the architect to design the new town skating rink, Ted Galante‘s first official task by the Skating Rink Design Committee was to essentially take a blank sheet of paper and start drawing.

And on Thursday, April 7, the Cambridge-based architect who led the renovation of the Belmont Police Headquarters and ramped the DPW building presented four variations of a new facility to solicit resident’s feedback after a few week into the design phase.

”We don’t have all the answers yet,” said Mark Haley, the chair of the Preliminary Rink Design Committee who hosted the meeting. ”We’re just really starting our journey on this design and that’s why we are reaching out to the public to get some of their input.”

For Goden Street resident Amy Tannenbaum, it is incumbent for both committee and architect to as go commit to a thorough process as ”we’re only going to do this once … so let’s do it right.”

What was presented Thursday were first impressions, the rough outlines of possible structures with the programs a new one-sheet-of-ice rink. Galante said these “are not final plans by any stretch” but rather the first iteration of how the ice sheet will relate to locations and the programs associated with the building.

“It’s the right time to be doing this sort of project given the vintage of the building.” said Galante of the structure built as an outdoor rink in 1969 and enclosed in 1971. “It is well past its useful life and is falling apart in many, many ways,” he said pointing to the haphazard way it was constructed and expanded over the years and currently “in violation of so many building codes” as well as the American with Disability Act.

”It’s a dangerous building as it currently exists,” said Galante.

In any new design, the building must incorporate an expanded program to fit its new role: large three-season and hockey specific locker rooms, a lobby, spectator seating, office space, ice skating rentals, and many more.

The new rink – which need a great deal of energy to create ice and maintain operations – will be designed to “reduce its carbon footprint” and sets a target at being carbon neutral using geothermal heating/cooling and installing photo voltaic panels on the roof or on south-facing façades.

“I think they’ll be many people in town that htis building be operationally zero net energy,” said resident Brian Isler of School Street. ”Rather than contributing to the global climate problem spewing carbon, let’s make a contribution to the solution and very likely save a ton of money” as rinks use a great amount of electricity, he said.

The structure which will house the high school’s Boys’ and Girls’ varsity and junior varsity teams will be the highlight of the area known as west of Harris Field which is part of the new Belmont Middle and High School campus. An important aspect of any design is a requirement to fit three fields and a 90 space parking lot – a requirement by the Planning Committee when it approved the entire Middle and High School project – the inside the area’s land envelope, which Galante will incorporate in his next design reiterations.

Two of Galante’s draft designs stood out, the first was rehabilitating of the current ice rink which was not included be so much renovating “The Skip” buy rather a near complete gut rehab of the structure. Galante envisions keeping the large steel bends and and as they represent “embodied energy.” But after that, every thing else goes: the ancient surface where the ice is located will be dug out, the ice-making infrastructure – refrigeration pipe grids, chiller, and pumps – tossed, the brick and corradiated steel walls hauled away, the leaking roof taken down, and all other interior structures from offices, locker rooms, bathrooms, concessions and Zamboni storage space will be taken away. From this point, a new structure will be constructed on a greater footprint than the current rink due to the expanded programing.

“So this is one concept, one dream, one possible scenario,” said Galante.

The second design which caught the attention of many would place the rink adjacent to Concord Avenue with below grade parking for 90 vehicle and locker rooms for fall and spring sports, a rink just above street level with tennis courts on the roof. It is one of two designs which would allow the current rink to be operational while a new one is being built.

Such a design would provide more space for fields by eliminating the need for a parking lot and provide the high school tennis program with the five courts on the western campus.

“Open space in this area is so limited,” said Heather Barr of School Street, noting the advantage this plan would have being flexible where along Concord Avenue this could be situated.

The other designs includes one preferred by the school committee and the district which is perpendicular to the current rink adjacent to Harris Field and flushed to the commuter rail tracks. It would allow easy access to fall and spring teams to the locker rooms and would push the rink and associated parking away from Concord Avenue which is favored by residents in nearby neighborhoods. It would also have a place for a concession stand that is currently adjacent to the White Field House.

Rink adjacent to commuter rail tracks.

Like the renovation concept, the perpendicular option would require the hockey program to seek a new “home” for two years as the structure would be built

The final design would place the rink behind the Mobil service station.

”These [designs] are concepts,” said Galante at the end of his 15 minute presentation. ”These are ideas. They are ways of considering how we might think about … creat[ing] something that is more energy independent and not in violation of so many codes and is safe and forward looking for the next 50 years.”

What each of the Galante’s initial designs don’t include is a price tag. And the cost of some features – below ground parking, roof tennis courts, elevators to be ADA compliant – could quickly “x” out any design or specific features.

During the public feedback many tennis supporters raised their voice in support of including five courts on the roof of the building which Galante presented in the four scenarios or on the grounds. Others pitched non-hockey skating – “Don’t forget our figure skaters,” said Goden Street’s Anne Marie Mahoney as she and her daughters learned the sport at the Skip – with skate rentals and locker rooms for ice skaters, using the playing space for other sports if the building is not a 12-month ice facility, and the need for solar panels and other carbon-free energy.

Haley said previously the committee will present two designs to the Select Board in the coming weeks.

Skating Rink Taken Off The Fast Track After Residents Questioned The Need For Speed

Photo: Jack Weis speaking before the Select Board and School Committee

The “fast track” the town and school committee had placed a proposed skating rink project is about to slow down considerably after the Belmont Select Board Monday night, Sept. 23 took to heart citizen’s complaints and will allow more time for the project to be vetted by potential development teams and residents.

The Select Board will now present a revised timeline and a new lease and request for proposal to the school committee at a joint meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Chenery Middle School.

“My concern has been about the timeline,” said Board Member Adam Dash, referring to the quick five week bidding period and a four day turnover from accepting bids to selecting a winning team to build the rink located off of Concord Avenue. “I just don’t want to rush.”

Talk of a new rink goes back to 2015 as it became obvious the existing rink built as an outdoor facility in the early 1970s could fail at any time so the need to move quickly on a replacement is paramount.

In addition, the town and school committee wanted the project to go before Special Town Meeting in mid-November where the town’s legislative body would need to approve trading school department land for agreements in the 30-year lease guaranteeing access to the rink by high school teams, support recreational programs and other town needs.

But at a public meeting held last week on Sept. 16, several residents including Jack Weis, Bob McGaw, and Fred Paulsen – each town meeting members from precinct 1 – cautioned rink supporters that, in essence, haste makes waste.

“I do have a concern that in the rush to push this forward by November, are we going to crowd out [bidders] … who simply don’t have to time to respond,” said Weis. “Are we going to end up with an ill conceived and rushed proposals?”

“[By p]utting together a timeline that will allow us to feel confident, we will get robust and well thought through proposals which is better than trying to get this one bite of the apple accomplished in 60 days,” he said.

The argument to slow down the project caught the ears of the select board and town officials. While the board believes the RFP and lease are complete and ready to be released and be bid on, it agreed weeks will be added to the bidding process as well as to the school committee’s review period in selecting a winning team.

“I’m concerned that teams will not respond because they can’t [put together a bid package] in that time frame,” said Dash. “I want to get the maximum number of responses.”

The need for an extended period for teams is the town is asking for “a fair bit [of information] in the RFP,” said Board Chair Tom Caputo, including a financing plan, a response to a detailed traffic proposal and meeting the town’s demands for ice time and facility usage.

And if just two bidders are selected for review, asking the school committee to examine and decide on a winning bid in just four days is “a lot to process” in that short of time.

“I understand that this means that we may miss the fall town meeting,” said Dash. But if the tight time frame for both bidders and the town cause too few bids or the rushed selection of a winning team, “it could mean the rink dies this winter” which could doom a new building.

Just how the new time schedule will look will be revealed on Tuesday by the town. A suggestion by Board Member Roy Epstein to hold a special town meeting in February 2020 to approve the lease agreement and OK a new bylaw to allow a sports structure to be built, “is [hopeful at best]”