Belmont Youth Hockey Scores On Proposed New Rink Along Concord Avenue

Photo: An overview of the proposed new Belmont Youth Hockey rink along Concord Avenue.

They patiently sat on the bench for the past two-and-a-half years since it last was action, but on Tuesday, April 24, Belmont Youth Hockey jumped over the boards to reintroduce itself to the community and the Belmont School Committee with its vision of a new skating rink for Belmont.

The structure will be a sleek single-story rink/recreation center located on Concord Avenue across from the Underwood Pools, creating with a new high school and public library a new community hub for Belmont, according to Belmont Youth Hockey representative Robert Mulroy who, along with Ara Krafian, CEO of Cambridge-based SMMA |Architects who created preliminary drawings of a new rink, who presented the plans to the School Committee.

If all goes to plan, the new rink/center could be up and running by 2020 before major construction begins on the new Belmont High School.

To make the whole thing work, the youth hockey organization is proposing a public/private partnership with the school committee and town which will allow the non-profit to take school property in a 30-year lease at zero cost with the stipulation Belmont High sports teams will have a set number of hours reserved for games and practices. That partnership agreement will need to pass muster from the school committee and Town Meeting.

A new rink that will not need significant public funding will be a small but significant capital expense removed from the town’s significant “wish list” of large projects that Belmont faces paying for which includes as new Police Headquarters, Department of Public Works facility and public library.

While reluctant to say how much the new center will cost as construction expenses have markedly increased, Mulroy quoted a price tag of $6.5 million in 2015. The construction of the new rink – which will require the demolition of both the White Field House and the Viglirolo rink, known as “The Skip”, which was built in the 1970s.

School committee members did raise questions on the impact of traffic along Concord Avenue with a brand new facility and high school just a few hundred feet from other., But Mulroy believes the nearly 180 new parking spaces and traffic pattern changes associated with a new High School project will alleviate the current demand of on-street parking on main and side streets created by the existing rink and vehicle congestion created by those seeking parking. 

Belmont Superintendent John Phelan said youth hockey was asked by the district and school committee to wait to present its proposal until the “footprint” of the new High School was determined, so not to create any interference with the design and location of the 7th to 12th-grade building.

The need for a new rink is evident once anyone enters “The Skip” which is the current home of Belmont Youth Hockey and the Belmont High teams. Built more than 40 years ago, the once open rink has one wall of corrugated steel open to the elements. (Once, a visitor from Calgary, Canada who attended a nephew’s game at “The Skip” on one bitter January night, said he had been in warmer outdoor arenas in his hometown than indoors in Belmont). The mechanical infrastructure is on “death’s door,” said Mulroy. 

“It’s not how long until there is a catastrophic failure. It’s that it will happen,” said Mulroy, whose league currently purchases three-quarters of all rental time at the rink. “But we have the capacity for a lot more,” he said.

A new rink comes as the youth hockey program has seen increased growth in participation and teams – eight developmental programs and 22 competitive traveling teams for boys and girls from 4 to 18 – in the program which started 47 years ago.

The rink/rec center would be located on school property facing Concord Avenue on the parking outcrop between the White Field House and the Mobil service station across from the Underwood Pool. It will be a short walk from Harris Field and will allow for a softball field and soccer/lacrosse pitch to be located in the rear.

The key points of a new Concord Avenue facility include:

  • A 6,500 square foot multi-use athletic/recreation center.
  • A year-round NHL-size rink with above the ice seating and a “half” rink, both can be used for ice hockey, public skating, figure skating, sled hockey and curling.
  • A field house for half the year (where the half-rink is located) for indoor tennis, concerts and a practice facility for baseball, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, and rock climbing.
  • A running/walking track above the field house.
  • 180 parking spaces that can be used by pool patrons and a drop-off area at the rink’s entrance.
  • Eight new locker rooms that can be utilized by teams playing on nearby Harris Field.
  • A team or community meeting room for public meetings or continued learning classes.
  • Exercise/health room for yoga and exercise.
  • Food concession stand.
  • A skate shop

The facility will be funded with a private 30-year loan which requires the school committee to lease the land at no cost to the non-profit, with an agreement that Belmont High’s Boys and Girls ice hockey teams will have a specific number of hours dedicated to practice and games. Phelan pointed out with a rink, the school department would need to allocate more than $100,000 a year on rental fees at other rinks and bus transportation.

Public-private arrangements are fairly common, said Mulroy, including for recreational facilities pointing to a pair of nearby examples: the Beede Pool and Gym in Concord and the Wellesley Sports Complex which will open later this year. 

The rink will be run by a professional management company. At the end of the 30 years, the town will have the opportunity to take possession of the facility or allow the existing management contract to continue under a new agreement. 

The Youth Hockey Association has been discussing an alternative location for the rink at the former incinerator on Concord Avenue at the Lexington/Belmont line. It would be an 80,000 sq.-ft. complex with two full ice surfaces and parking. While the association has been in discussions with officials and town counsel exploring the feasibility of the town-owned location, Mulroy said the clear first option for youth hockey is the high school site.

Mulroy said the next steps will be gathering feedback from the School committee and residents before seeking support from both the committee and Town Meeting to move forward. Once it gets the initial OK, Youth Hockey will release a Request for Proposal to build the facility and finalize the lease agreement. Afterward, the final designs will be done and the financing will be secured. The final step is to go back to the School Committee and Town Meeting for final approval of the lease deal. 

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