Photo: A new rink would likely be built in this location near the present rink (in photo).
The pieces are beginning to fall into place pointing to a new skating rink coming to Belmont in the next two years.
And while there are a pair of locations where the replacement for the ancient “Skip” Viglirolo rink is expected to be sited, there is growing support over the past month pointing to Belmont School District property along Concord Avenue across from the Underwood Pool as the likely spot, beating out a facility at the former incinerator site on upper Concord Avenue on the Lexington town line.
In an important step that would keep the rink adjacent to Harris Field, the Belmont School Committee vote unanimously at its Tuesday, Dec. 19, meeting to proceed with a Request for Proposal (RFP), which will solicit proposals through a bidding process.
“This is a town project, not just a schools project,” said Belmont Superintendent John Phelan at the meeting.
The School Committee Chair Susan Burgess-Cox said while moving forward with a RFP, the committee would be open to all suggestions and comments from the public on developing the site which will have its chance to express its opinion at a January community meeting on the future of the incinerator site that will impact the rink development.
While hardly the size of a new public/private venture in New York City that will house nine skating rinks, Belmont Youth Hockey in a presentation before the School Committee in April proposed a space with an ice sheet-and-a-half (with the half ice sheet covered for nine months and used by spring, summer and fall youth and high school sports teams) with recreational open space, an indoor track and locker rooms that can be used by indoor and outdoor sports teams.
(A public/private rink to replace the aged “Skip” is not a recent concept as it has been talk about around town since 2015.)
While no decision has been made by either the School Committee – which owns the property – and the Board of Selectmen which has final say what will go on the incinerator land, recently presented analysis of the two locations appearing to give the clear edge to the school’s site.
At the school committee meeting Tuesday, Phelan presented a pro and con comparison of the two sites. Noting that the 1970s-era “Skip” is well-passed its useful working life and is only kept running with “McGyver”-style hacks to the ice-making machinery, Phelan said a new rink built through a public/private partnership – in past schemes, Belmont Youth Hockey would manage the rink that is constructed on land provided free of charge by the town or schools – would provide local access to ice time for the community and the Belmont High School ice hockey teams. Under this scenario, the direct cost to town ratepayers would be zero.
As for the pro’s of the high school site, it would be convenient for the school’s teams, it would increase locker space for boys and girls teams who play at Harris Field, it would not need state regulatory approval and just town zoning permits and there would finally be on-site parking as opposed to using Concord Avenue and several side streets.
“There’s a nice energy of uses if it was on the high school site that would complement the new fields,” said Phelan.
One big con would be the potential loss of playing field space during and after the building is completed, additional traffic and the possible congestion created as the rink will be constructed while the 7-12 school is being built less than a quarter mile away “would be challenging,” said Phelan.
The incinerator site does have its pro’s as in less traffic impact on the local neighborhood, doesn’t interfere with new school’s construction site and there is enough land to build a rink with two full-size ice sheets.
But the cons at the incinerator are steep: school teams would need to take one bus to and from practice at a cost of approximately $400 daily or $2,000 each week for up to 14-16 weeks. Because there are state-issued conditions on what can be placed at the incinerator location and environmental issues, it is expected to take up to four years before the first shovel is put into the ground, which will also require the town to pick up maintenance costs and likely repairs at the old rink until construction is completed. There is the issue of capping the toxic landfill site which will cost the town approximately $3.5 to $4 million, an amount a non-profit rink organization would find daunting to help pay and would force up rental fees. Finally, there are concerns that a foundation for the building and ice sheet on ground that is infill and close to wetlands could be prohibitively expensive.
While a number of committee members voiced some concern about the loss of fields for high school sports teams (depends what the winning RFP bid specifies) and would a new rink replace the locker room space lost when the White Field House is demolished (“yes,” said Phelan), they also felt the added transportation costs and far-off location of an incinerator-located rink were less than attractive.
By the end of the presentation, the committee was ready to put the school district’s stake in the ground for new rink. But while interested in building on the property, the district and committee “[are] not yet committed to doing so,” until the public process is completed, said member Andrea Prestwich.