Public Meeting On New Rink Set (Sort Of) For Jan. 22

Photo: A new facility will replace the “Skip” Viglirolo rink adjacent to Harris Field.

The public will get its opportunity to listen and speak up on a new skating rink as a tentative date was presented at the Belmont School Committee meeting Tuesday, Jan. 8.

“Now is the time to take the next step” on the future of a possible public/private rink which could be located on school department property, said Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan, as he proposed the committee to request the Belmont Board of Selectmen to conduct a joint meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 22. The meeting will likely take place at the Chenery Middle School.

But the date is tentative as it may change if more members of both groups can attend at an alternative date and time.

Phelan said the first part of the meeting will be a listing of the pros and cons of placing the rink along Concord Avenue across from the Underwood Pools or at the closed incinerator location on upper Concord Avenue near the Lexington town line, as well as an explanation of the RFP – request for proposal – process.

The meeting will then become an open forum for the public to participate and “can have some dialogue” that could influence what will be included as public benefits and what it will expect from a new rink design including parking and traffic access, said Phelan.

At Monday’s, Jan 7, Board of Selectmen meeting, member Tom Caputo – the board’s liaison to the rink discussions – said while two locations remain in the running, past discussions and analysis of the upper Concord Avenue site by an environmental consultant revealed the incinerator parcel “might not be the best site” for a building housing a rink as it would be “more challenging” to build on ground that first needs to be capped.

In addition, a rink could not be built at the incinerator site for up to five years as the land will be used as a staging area for the construction of the new 7-12 school building.

Phelan said if the school committee – which last month agreed to move forward towards a possible acceptance of a rink– votes to accept an RFP utilizing school property, it will advantageous that “everything is ready to go” involving the project such as having a partner selected and a list of public benefits written out when a proposal is presented to Town Meeting in May.

While the RFP has yet to be written or placed out for a bid, the leading contender to run the facility is Belmont Youth Hockey which has been guiding  the effort to build a replacement for the “Skip” Viglirolo Skating Rink adjacent to Harris Field for the better part of a decade. It has released draft architectural designs and a list of public amenities such as locker rooms that can be used by home and away teams playing at Harris Field.

The site will be constructed as a public/private partnership in which the school department land would be leased at no cost for 30 years to the entity running the rink with specific language in the RFP requiring an allotment of time for youth hockey, both high school teams, and public uses. The town would be given the opportunity to take ownership of the structure at the end of the lease.

A Coach’s Tribute To Dan Kelleher, Belmont’s Mr. Hockey

Photo: Belmont Mites, 2017 (credit: Agganis Arena)

By Paul Graham

In the suburbs of Boston, nestled between Cambridge and Waltham, and in a constant battle to the north with Arlington and to the south with Watertown, lies the hockey enclave of Belmont.

Although it does not receive the same fanfare as places like Warroad or Edina, Belmont is steeped with a tradition of producing hockey players. Since the 70s, hundreds of kids have come out of the Belmont Youth Hockey program and gone on to play in high school. Dozens have gone on to play college hockey. Many of these players have been good enough to play Division 1. We’ve even had a few make it all the way to the NHL. Regardless of what level you ultimately played, the love you have for the game can be traced back to that first team with that first coach. 

Belmont’s hockey culture has been around since the first half of the 20th century. Names like Red Marsh and Skip Viglirolo played on the 1959 US National team and represent some of the early champions of the game in our town. Since at least the mid-1970s, one person has coached every Mite Hockey player in the town of Belmont and therefore has been everyone’s first coach in that span.

That person is Dan Kelleher.

A lot of towns, I’m sure, have a person like Coach Kelleher. These are the people who are always around the rink and ballfield, teaching the game, and creating a culture of competitiveness fertilized with fun. In Belmont, we were lucky to have Coach Kelleher. Hundreds of kids can thank, to a very large degree, Coach Kelleher for their love of the game regardless of how many years, or what level of hockey, they ultimately played.

Thanks to Mr. Kelleher, as young kids, we were able to play in contests like the Perini tournament and the Arlmont Cup. Later he started the Belmont Christmas Mite Tournament. These tournaments, for a 5-, 6-, and 7-year-old, may as well have been for the Stanley Cup. They were competitive, and they were fun. When I run into some Arlington kids, they still sting from their 1980 Arlmont Cup defeat. Mr. Kelleher made these memories possible for us. All of us had parents who wanted their kids to experience the lessons and joys of teamwork and competing, but none of our parents could have asked for a better first coach for us. 

Aside from coaching Mite hockey for our travel program, Mr. Kelleher also ran “Rec” Hockey which was Belmont’s “in-house” program on Sunday mornings at the town rink. Mr. Kelleher would divide the players up into teams named after the Beanpot schools, and we would just play. It was awesome. Parents would plan which Mass to attend based on which hour of “rec” you had that week. When you would go to Mass, you would see your buddies, already dressed in their equipment, walking down the aisle to receive communion. Thirty minutes later, you’re lined up at a faceoff across from these same kids. That’s just the way it was, and it was great! It was Mr. Kelleher who volunteered his time, and who rounded up his friends to help him so that all of us could have these opportunities to have more ice-time through “rec hockey.” That’s a lot of time and effort that he put in for so many of us. Many towns may have someone playing this role, but nobody else had Mr. Kelleher. 

Of course, it was a family affair for the Kellehers. To give that kind of time to the kids of our town, he had the First Lady of Belmont Hockey working with him and doing all the behind-the-scenes stuff. Mrs. Kelleher is the best. She knew who the kids were who would block shots and pay the price to win the battles in the corners and in front of the net. She also knew exactly who would shy away from contact and not pay the price – of course the latter was not acceptable behavior in Belmont. If she told you that you had a “nice game,” you were probably on the good list that day!

Mr. and Mrs. Kelleher produced five sons who would play at least college hockey. That’s incredible but now think of the math involved to shuttle five boys to X number of rinks throughout a weekend let alone a week during those youth hockey years. Then, add in the rinks where Mr. and Mrs. Kelleher would be when none of their boys were playing in the game or practice. There is no real way for the rest of us to express gratitude for time and energy they devoted to the hockey playing (and baseball playing for that matter) youth of Belmont. 

Most of us had Dad’s who taught us to give firm handshakes and look people in the eye while shaking hands. This process was next to impossible when shaking the hand of Mr. Kelleher. His hands were massive and powerful. To shake his hand, even into adulthood, one had to be mentally prepared. Focus in and do your best to get a good grip. Even if you succeeded up to this point, the best you could do was try to flex the tips of your fingers, and even then, you were touching all palm. His hands engulfed yours. All you could do was give it your best so you could look your own father in the eye afterward. Nothing worse than giving a fish handshake especially to someone who commanded respect like Mr. Kelleher. You did everything you could to accomplish the impossible when shaking his hand. 

Coach Kelleher expected you to give it your best, to compete, and to have fun. Of course, it’s hard to have fun when you lose, but we were lucky enough to grow up in Belmont. We really didn’t know too much about losing other than that was what Watertown and Arlington did when we played them.

He was one of many in Belmont who would teach teams how to play the game, but he was the one who laid the foundation for all of us by being our first coach. So much of what you learn about the game, about “team,” about hustle, and about competing stems from your first team. For over 40 years, Belmont kids can point to Dan Kelleher as that first coach. 

Thank you, Mr. Kelleher. 

Graham is the long-time coach of Belmont High School Girls’ Soccer who also coached Boys’ Lacrosse.

Breaking: Belmont’s Mr. Hockey, Dan Kelleher, Dead

Photo: A banner honoring Dan Kelleher for his 40 years volunteering with Belmont Youth Hockey.

Daniel “Dan” Kelleher who for five decades volunteered as a coach and mentor with Belmont Youth Hockey and was the first coach to generations of Belmont hockey players, has died. 

The long-time resident with his wife, Maura, of Long Avenue, was in frail health for the past few years. Yet he was frequently seen rink-side during Belmont High School’s playoff run this past season, having coached the majority of players a decade earlier.

“Belmont Hockey and the entire town have lost a legend,” twitted Belmont High Hockey. “40 plus years of volunteering for hockey and baseball. Had an impact on thousands of young athletes. Will be missed but never forgotten.”

“On the ice or off, Dan Kelleher was the kind of guy you wanted your kids to learn from,” wrote Kevin Kavanagh, executive director at Massachusetts Hockey.

Kelleher will best be remembered as the coach of Belmont Youth Hockey’s Mites, the eight-year-old and under players who play in their first competitive games against other towns. He hosted the annual holiday Mite tournament over the Christmas break that attracted teams from around eastern Massachusetts to Belmont. 

Kelleher also coached baseball with the Middlesex Senior Babe Ruth League.

Kelleher is a member of the Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame (2001) and the 2001 recipient of the William Thayer Tutt Award, USA Hockey’s highest volunteer award.

He is survived by five sons, all of who played college hockey. Last year, his son Patrick was named the executive director of USA Hockey, the sport’s national governing body.

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.