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]”