Photo: The Skip has opened for the season.
On the day the town opened the 40-year-old plus Viglirolo Skating Rink for the season, the Select Board heard that a long sought after replacement for the current dilapidated facility came to a close after the only candidate to reply to the ambitious proposal could not make the project financially feasible.
“I wish I had better news to report,” said Tom Caputo who was the Select Board’s liaison to the town’s effort to create a one-and-a-half ice sheet rink to the west of the current facility known as the “Skip.”
“But the consensus of the group [of town and school officials] who worked on this is we don’t have an economically viable public/private partnership at this point,” said Caputo during the board’s ultramarathon of a meeting [four hours and 26 minutes] held Monday, Nov. 9
This comes as Recreation Department personnel who run the rink state that it is only a matter of time before a catastrophic mechanical failure involving the pipes and compressors – some original underground equipment from the 1970s that are no longer being manufactured – will require the facility to be closed for good.
“It’s running. That’s the key every year, we just hope it gets up and going,” said Recreation Director and Assistant Town Administrator Jon Marshall.
“But in the near future, we’re not going to be lucky. That’s the challenge,” said Marshal.
First proposed in September 2015, a long sought-after new rink was envisioned to be private/public partnership in which the school department would lease a portion of its land west of Harris Field to a private developer/rink manager at not cost for at least 25 years. In exchange, the Belmont High ice hockey teams would practice and hold games for free as well as allow for free recreational skating while the rink manager would rent the space to hockey leagues and private functions.
A detailed request for proposal was developed with input from the school committee and district, the town and neighbors during at times laborious negotiations. While there was some interest in the proposal, only one team headed by Belmont Youth Hockey put their hat in the ring to move to more substantial discussions with the town.
A tall order that failed
According to Caputo, what doomed the talks directed at replacing the ancient rink was how the RFP “was pretty highly constrained” to the developer. Not only was the town seeking for them to fund, construct and operate a multi-sheet facility, it required more than 100 parking spaces that would be linked to the high school and construct three high school playing and practice fields while providing aforementioned free playing and game time for varsity and junior varsity teams.
“That was a tall order, to say the least,” acknowledged Caputo.
While the two sides negotiated over the summer and resolved many conflicts facing the proposal, at the end of the day, the Youth Hockey team could not made their proposal work financially if it had to meet the space requirements in the RFP, especially the parking component, as well as providing a large chunk of no cost ice time to the school department.
“We just could not come up with an economically viable project that would work for the applicate that they could get funded and be confident to make payments on,” said Caputo. In fact, the town believes as currently written, the RFP as outlined and as constrained is such that there is not a viable project that will work.
Under the column titled Next Steps, Caputo said there is interest in adjusting the long list of town requirements for the project and modify the RFP.
“This is not unusual … to have a couple of rounds with the RFP before you get it right,” said Caputo. “There is creative ideas around parking and maybe not have free access to ice time that can be explored.”
But Caputo admitted that some of those creative adjustments that are “kicking around” is that “they are so far from the RFP that was created that they are probably outside the bounds of what we can reasonably negotiate.”
In addition, Marshall has begun the first steps in better understanding what it would take to renovate or rebuild the current location.
Select Board Member Adam Dash said that many of the required changes needed in the RFP to spark interest from a private developer would be “no gos” on the town side as the RFP required a great deal of negotiations with the school district and residents.
Dash also derided any thoughts of refurbishing the “Skip,” describing it as a “disaster.”
“What would it cost to build a one sheet of ice rink? God knows when we could get the money to do it,” said Dash. “This one is gonna die probably before we can get there. It’s not a good situation.”