BRATTLEBORO -- For a little while the Selectboard was skating on thin ice while trying to figure out how to maintain the Nelson Withington Rink at Living Memorial Park.
In March Town Meeting Representatives authorized spending up to $362,000 to purchase and install new equipment at the rink after two compressors failed at the end of last season.
Then, when workers came out to assess the job the estimate rose to almost $500,000.
The Selectboard put the brakes on the job during the summer, and all the while groups that use the rink in the winter were getting nervous that the ice would not be ready in time for the season.
Now, after the board agreed to what it thought would be a temporary fix of investing about $33,000 in the rink, the Recreation and Parks Department may have come up with a plan that is going to cost much less money in the long run, while possibly keeping the old equipment running into the future.
And the money that Town Meeting Representatives put aside last year for the rink might come in handy as the Selectboard tries to squeeze every penny it can to keep the tax rate increase down this year.
At this week's Selectboard meeting the board agreed to give Recreation and Parks Department Director Carol Lolatte up to $33,000 to upgrade, maintain and protect the equipment at the rink.
Lolatte made no promises, but she said a refrigeration specialist visited the rink recently and the equipment that is in place now might serve the town for at least the next few years if it is maintained appropriately.
"It's important to let people know that we are staying where we are today. We are not looking to the future," Lolatte told the board Tuesday while discussing the ice making equipment.
In August the board agreed to invest about $33,000 in the compressors at the rink to ensure that the ice would in fact be ready for the start of the season.
Since then, Lolatte said, a refrigeration specialist said if the new compressors were protected from the cold, and some of the older equipment was properly maintained, then the town might be able to skate by on much less money and keep the equipment running for a few years.
Lolatte said $5,000 to $7,000 is going to be used to build an enclosure for the compressors which she said will help protect and allow them work more efficiently.
The rest of the money, she said, will be used to upgrade the system, as needed, during the season.
"We will diagnose the existing system, and start with the valves and see how that takes," Lolatte said. "If that is all it takes we will stop there. We will not spend the whole $30,000 at once."
While the board was trying to make decisions about the equipment earlier this year it appointed a committee to help look into the options, and Lolatte said the committee has been instrumental in putting the new plan together.
If Lolatte and the board agree that the equipment is holding up adequately the Selectboard can ask Town Meeting Representatives to move the money out of the Capital Fund and use it to offset expenditures for 2015.
"As far as I can see, once we authorize this $33,000, the $362,000 that Town meeting Reps put aside will be available capital," Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said. "There will be about $280,000 left over to apply however we deem appropriate."
Eventually the town is going to have to make some decisions about the equipment as it phases out the R-22 refrigerant that the EPA is prohibiting in the coming years.
"In the big picture, as we solve these issues and move forward, the committee would like to stay on and look at the big picture five to seven, or eight years down the road, to see what that would look like," Lolatte said. "This is not allowing us to move forward, but it is allowing us to get the best benefit, and it gives us more time to look out there and see what do we want while looking to the future."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.