Latest Rink Configuration OK’d By School Committee; Tennis Courts Remain A ‘?’

Photo: The scheme approved by the school committee for a new skating rink in Belmont

The Belmont School Committee unanimously approved on Wednesday, May 12, the latest design scheme for a new skating/hockey rink located near the present location adjacent to Harris Field.

The joint meeting with the Belmont Select Board did not address a pair of vital issues that still require answers: how to find the $18 million to replace the dilapidated half century old rink, and how to resolve a consistent clarion call of the town’s tennis community seeking to squeeze five courts into a site already bursting at the seams.

“We do need to close this matter out and move the discussion forward. It’s not fair to anyone to just keep dragging it out and providing any group with any false expectations,” said Adam Dash, the Select Board chair who co-hosted the meeting with the School Committee’s Amy Checkoway whose committee controls the land use where the rink would reside.

Responding to a request from the town, Steven Stefton, lead of the sports and recreation practice of Perkins&Will’s Boston office, presented a trio of schemes in which the rink, parking, and three sports fields occupy the area west of Harris Field. In quick order, the most attractive of the plans had the single-sheet rink place adjacent to the commuter rail tracks and Harris Field, about 90 parking spaces with three sports fields occupying the remainder of the land.

Steven Sefton, Perkins&Will

The two-level 45,900 square-foot facility would top off around 35 feet tall. The rink’s program would be quite modest with locker rooms that would be available for hockey and teams playing at Harris Field. The site will also allow for a three sports field configuration with a limited amount of overlap. It would take 15 months to build – the shortest time frame of the three schemes – at a total cost of $20.3 million with a $2.25 million credit from the Middle and High School Building project.

“There’s a myriad of opportunities with this design that we think we could really create a high-performing facility in the future. And then ultimately it’s the most cost-effective solution that can be phased easily,” said Stefton.

Checkoway said while the committee does have a preference on design, it will be necessary to “at some point figures out a way to finance it.”

“This [meeting] is really about holding a place for a potential new rink at some point in the future,” said Checkoway.

But for many of the 100 residents on the virtual meeting, the topic on the top of their agenda was finding some way to place five tennis courts on the site. Belmont High was once the home of ten courts – located on the northeast side of the existing building – before construction began on the new Middle and High School.

A decision in 2017 by the Middle and High School Building Committee in consultation with Perkins&Will (the architects of the new school) eliminated the courts in favor of new fields and parking on the site. In January 2020, the School Committee reiterated the earlier action with a promise to add courts at the nearby Winn Brook Playground.

Dash noted the select board and school committee devised a compromise in which an extra court would be built at the Winn Brook to allow the varsity tennis teams a “home” facility, albeit without changing and restrooms. The Community Reinvestment Committee will present a proposal to Town Meeting in June to pay for a single court at the playground for a total of five.

Not feeling heard

But even with a partial solution at the Winn Brook, “there are a lot of tennis players in town, tennis parents that feel disenfranchised,” said Select Board member Mark Paolillo.

Those advocating a return of courts to the school’s site gravitated towards two possible options, one of which would reduce the number of parking spaces from 90 to approximately 20 and install the courts close to Concord Avenue.

The School Committee’s Mike Crowley said with the need to deal with the climate crisis and for more sustainable approaches to transportation, “I don’t know that I want to see those students driving to school. So I’m looking at that space, I’m seeing tennis court potential.”

Planning Board Chair Stephen Pinkerton was then recognized who said while “it’s aspirational” to limit student driving, the reality is if those drivers are coming and if they can’t find parking at the school, they will on side streets.

Any attempt to reduce parking would require tampering with the agreement between the school district and the Planning Board on parking at the new school. As part of the Site Planning Approval encompassing the entire project, an agreement was reached where the project would have 400 parking spaces with 90 of those spaces located west of Harris Field, a settlement Pinkerton said was hammered out with numerous parties – residents from nearby neighborhoods, transportation groups – involving long and at times contentious dialogue.

In an apparent compromise that would return the high school tennis teams on campus, Select Board member Mark Paolillo raised the point of the need for a junior varsity baseball field west of the campus.

“Can we program around JV baseball so that we can get the tennis courts on the campus,” said Paolillo, noting the popularity of tennis and the removal of half the courts’ town-wide in the past decade.

“It seems strange to me that there are junior varsity fields on the campus and yet we can’t get a varsity sport on the campus and yet we can’t get a varsity sport on the campus,” said resident Lou Miller.

Town and school officials said removing baseball isn’t that simple due to the lack of an appropriately-sized baseball field in town. Jon Marshall, assistant town administrator and recreation director, said moving the JV team to another field “would have a ripple effect” on the high school and town sports teams as it would require altering small diamonds into “90-foot fields” – referring to the number of feet between bases on the standard adult playing grounds – which would affect the playing choices for regional and town baseball teams.

After the committee voted to OK its favorite scheme, it appears a formally installed working group to established to find answers to financing, parking, and land use will be a result of the meeting.

Bidding Opens For New Skating Rink, Decision On Winning Offer In May

Photo: A new rink will replace the five decade old “Skip” Viglirolo Skating Rink.

In the same week the Belmont’s Skip Viglirolo Skating Rink was forced to shut down due to “unseasonably warm” temperatures – in January(!)– the town and schools OKed opening the bidding process to build a next-generation private/public partnership skating facility on school property west of Harris Field.

“This is actually a big moment in the development of this project,” said Jeffery Wheller, Belmont’s senior planner before a joint meeting of the Select Board and School Committee as each group voted unanimously to approve the release of the final version of the request for proposal on Jan. 15.

“Hopefully after tonight’s presentation we’ll get some exciting responses to the project,” he said.

The town’s Community Development Office also released a seven-month timeline of important milestones the RFP will undergo before a deal is struck.

  • Wednesday, Jan. 15: RFP is released to the public.
  • Wednesday, Jan. 29: Site visit and preliminary meeting with interested parties.
  • Tuesday, Feb. 25: Select Board/School Committee discuss review process.
  • Friday, March 20: Proposals are due.
  • Tuesday, April 7: School Committee/Select Board review top proposals.
  • Tuesday, April 28: School Committee/Select Board interview best proposals.
  • Tuesday, May 12: School Committee/Select Board selects the winning proposal.
  • Monday, June 1: On the second night of the 2020 annual Town Meeting, a Special Town Meeting will be convened to vote: 1). To lease school property to a private developer(s) and 2). amend the definition in the town’s zoning bylaw on municipal recreational uses.
  • Tuesday, June 9: School Committee awards a contract to the winning proposal.
  • Between June 10 to July 8: School Committee negotiates a long-term lease with the selected developer(s).

The town is predicting the design and site plan review process managed by the Planning Board will take between six to nine months. Only when that is completed can the developer seek a building permit.

The existing rink – known as “The Skip” – will remain in operation until the new facility is up and running and will be taken down by the town unless the area that the rink currently occupies will is needed to fulfill the town’s programmatic needs.

The RFP is fairly similar to earlier drafts, although a proposed tennis complex has been removed from the proposal.

The main features of the RFP include:

  • The facility – which may be expanded to be a year round operation – will need to share the land west of the existing rink and Harris Field with three athletic fields, a pair of throwing circles and 110 parking spaces (90 reserved for students on school days) that will be built at town expense.
  • The facility – with a maximum height of two-and-a-half stories – can contain a full-size and one half-size sheet of ice. The building will have at least 300 seats for spectators, public restrooms, a skate shop and food concessions.
  • The building will have a minimum of four locker rooms with two containing 35 lockers for boys’ and girls’ varsity and the other two with 45 lockers for the junior varsity teams. Each room will have a coaches room, showers and storage. The facility will also have a refs room, an athletic trainers room and wet area.
  • Two locker rooms will also be used by high school fall and spring sports, one each for the home and visiting teams. The restrooms will also have outdoor accessibility.
  • The town would “prefer” a zero-net energy facility i.e. avoiding fossil fuels to power the site.
  • The high school’s ice hockey teams will have four consecutive hours of ice time Monday to Saturday, during the 15-week season. Games will be played over two hours. Belmont Youth Hockey will have hours and times that meet its growing needs as will programs linked to the town’s Recreation Department.
  • The hours of operation will be negotiated with the winning bidder and the town.

Each candidate will be evaluated and ranked based on a matrix in which the town will grade the four comparative evaluation criteria the town has selected.

For example, those bidders that can show experience designing and building a significant number of similar rinks that have been successful and with similar goals as Belmont is seeking will receive a “very advantageous” ranking; those who have built only “some” facilities will be seen as being “advantageous” while those with no experience constructing rinks will be deemed “non-advantageous.”

Town Release Draft RFP For New Skating Rink Prior To Public Meeting

Photo: A sky view of the site where the new ice skating rink will be located.

In preparation of the Monday, Sept. 16 public meeting at the Beech Street Center at 7 p.m. to discuss a new ice skating rink on Concord Avenue, the town has released the draft request for proposal for the public/private project that residents (and possible bidders) can take a fine-tooth comb to.

A myriad of town departments – led by Town Administrator Patrice Garvin – got together after the School Committee gave its OK to build the new rink on school property with the plan of putting the project on a “fast track” where bids for the construction and operation of the building as well as a lease agreement and Town Meeting approval to transfer public land to a private entity and the lease of the land by the end of 2019.

And the town kept to that quick schedule as it expects to have the project, to be built on school department land to the west of Harris Field to be out to bid on Wednesday, Sept. 25.

Highlights of the RFP – see the entire 87-page proposal here – include many of the objectives laid out by the school district and the town during the past four years a proposed building has been floated around town.

  • The facility will be at maximum one and a half sheets of ice with at least 300 spectator seats as well as skate rental, food concession and other amenities, “as appropriate for a high-quality skating facility.”
  • The hours of operation “may be expanded to the whole calendar year to be a year-round operation,” according to the draft RFP. “Ultimately, the hours of operation will be negotiated with the selected respondent.”
  • The facility will have 110 parking spaces – 90 for student use while school is in session and 20 spaces for daytime use by facility patrons.
  • The rink will accommodate four locker rooms: Junior Varsity and Varsity girls’ teams in two rooms with 35 lockers while boys’ JV and Varsity will have two rooms with 45 lockers. Visiting team boys and girls locker rooms will also be needed so that doubleheaders can be played. Both home and visiting locker rooms should include coaches’ offices, showers and storage cabinets.
  • The facility will also include a referee locker room (with showers and bathrooms), athletic training room (including ice machine and exam table), and wet area.
  • In spring and fall, the locker rooms will be used for sports (soccer, field hockey, football, lacrosse, rugby) played at Harris Field and the nearby fields.
  • In addition to the facility, three JV grass athletic fields (they can overlap) for baseball, softball, and soccer will need to be included on the site.
  • The project will undergo Design and Site Plan Review from the Planning Board which is anticipated to take between six to nine months.

Part of the public/private agreement will require the operator to set aside a good chunk of time for the high school hockey teams at no cost to the town or schools. For six days a week, Monday to Saturday, from Thanksgiving to mid-March, the teams will have four hours of continuous ice time from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The town’s Recreation Department will be a “priority user” enabling it to book the facility at a reduced rate for its programs including general skating, stick & puck, and figure skating.

The proposal includes a detailed traffic study which will lead any operator/builder in its parking and traffic plan.

While a very involved proposal, the town and schools will attempt to squeeze the process from initial bidding to final lease negotiation and selecting a builder within two months.

Wed.,
Sept. 25
Request for Proposal/Lease published in 
Central Register
Wed.,
Oct. 9
Pre-Bid Meeting and Site Visit
Wed.,
Oct. 30
Town receives proposals
Oct. 30 – Nov. 4Internal Working Group evaluates proposals
based on criteria identified within the Request for Proposal
Mon.,
Nov. 4
School Committee selects best proposal
Wed.,
Nov. 13
1. Town Meeting votes to lease Site to a private entity(s)
2. Town Meeting votes to amend Zoning By-
Law.
2/3s vote required for both actions.
Attendance at Town Meeting is required by the
selected respondent.
Tues.,
Nov. 26
School Committee award contract to the winning
proposal
Nov. 27 – Dec. 11School Committee negotiate a lease with selected
respondent

Proposed Ice Rink Gets Guideposts Along With A ‘Fast And Furious’ Timeline

Photo: Town officials speaking on guidelines/time frame for a new ice skating rink in Belmont; (from left) Jon Marshall, Jeffrey Wheeler, Patrice Garvin, Tom Caputo.

During its final meeting until September, the Belmont School Committee voted on Tuesday, June 18 to approve a list of “guiding principles” for a Request for Proposal for a new ice skating rink that will ensure the school district and town will have a significant say in future of the public/private venture.

The list of suggestions that includes size, uses and oversight of the new rink, will provide “potential applicant the freedom to explore a variety of different [design] options,” said Tom Caputo, chair of the Board of Selectmen.

In addition to the guideline, the town presented a very tight timeline going from the release of a draft RFP in early September to finalizing a public/private lease with a selected development team in late November.

“The calendar is critical and that everybody buys into it,” insisted Jeffrey Wheeler, the town’s senior planner who will be working over the next two months with the Town Administrator’s Office and a working group of school committee members creating the RFP.

An anticipated vote on a location of the rink was delayed until after a traffic study is conducted with the aim of determining the best place for the “curb cut” from Concord Avenue.

“We felt that until that was determined, we really couldn’t figure out the place to site the rink,” said Patrice Garvin, Belmont Town Administrator who was joined by Jon Marshall. the assistant town manager who will lead the effort in writing the RFP.

The school committee guidelines include:

• A rink with one and a half sheets of ice is “acceptable” but developers can submit a plan for a single ice sheet.

• developer should minimize the building’s footprint to accomodate three playing fields for high school sports.

• The rink will include between 70 to 90 parking spaces within the site design; the spaces will be available for student parking at the new Middle and High School.

• The need for locker rooms to accommodate the high school teams and can be used for fall and spring sports.

• Ice time will be allocated to the high school teams and reduced rates for Recreation Department programs.

• The developer must submit a financial model to demonstrate financial viability.

• The creation of an oversight committee to secure the terms of the lease are being fulfilled.

While the town will be performing the heavy lifting of creating the proposal with many moving parts, the real challenge is a fast and furious timeline imposed by the town that calls for the approve the RFP, selecting a developer, OKing a lease and then signing a comprehensive public/private agreement all within a tiddy three months.

According to Wheeler, the accelerated timeline starts the day after Labor Day (Sept. 3) with a draft RFP sent to school committee members and the Select Board for edits and review.

It will be followed over the next two weeks by a pair of public meetings (Sept. 10 and 17) for residents input before a final RFP is approved on Sept. 24. A day later, the RFP is out before potential developers who will have a shortened five-week interval to submit a bid to the community development office by Oct. 30.

Just six days later on Nov. 5, the Select Board and the School Committee will select the best proposal followed eight days later on Nov. 13 with Special Town Meeting voting to approve leasing town/school land to a private developer.

Finally, two days before Thanksgiving (Nov. 26), the Select Board and School Committee will award a contract to the winning proposal on Nov. 26.