Brattleboro board OKs rink plan

Monday July 8, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- The Selectboard has decided to stick with the aging equipment at the Nelson Withington Skating Rink, for at least one more year, to ensure that the ice is ready in time for the upcoming season.

The two compressors at the Nelson Withington Skating Rink failed at the end of the last season and the town has been considering investing in a new system.

Back in March, Town Meeting Representatives approved spending $362,000 for new equipment, but when the actual estimate came in last month at almost $500,000 the board decided to take more time before committing to the larger project.

At the Selectboard meeting last week members of the ice skating and hockey programs asked the board to make a decision to make sure the work would be completed in time for the start of skating season on Oct. 26.

At the meeting Tuesday the board agreed to invest between $30,000 and $40,000 in the compressors at the facility, even though Recreation and Parks Director Carol Lolatte said there was no guarantee that the equipment would hold up for one more entire season.

Even though Town Meeting Representatives approved the funding more than three months ago, and the board has held a few discussions on the facility, the Selectboard members said they were still unsure the correct course of action, and Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said he was not ready to commit almost $500,000 to the project.

"There have been a number of stalled efforts to begin work rehabilitating the Nelson Withington Skating Rink," he said. "The board has asked for more information to chart a course going forward."

At the meeting Tuesday Brattleboro Hockey Association Vice President Tom Bodett did not offer a suggestion on which repair option to choose, but he did ask the board to make a decision to make sure BHA had a home rink it could rely on.

Bodett said BHA has to send season information out soon, and he said families might choose to go to Greenfield, Mass., or Keene, N.H., next year if they can't be sure that the Brattleboro ice will be available by the start of the season

"Our concern is that a late start will cost us dearly," Bodett said. "This is our home ice and we take it very seriously. The health of the ice is at the heart of everything we do. We want to sign people up and we want to start on time. We are afraid that if this goes on any longer it will mean our mutually assured destruction."

Before the Selectboard voted to try to keep the existing compressors going for one more year Town Manager Barbara Sondag said the board had three options.

Along with the $30,000 to $40,000 option of rebuilding and replacing the compressors, Sondag said the board could elect to invest an estimated $472,000 on a new ammonia-based system which would help the town move away from the outdated R-22 refrigerant.

Sondag also said the board could just replace the compressors to use with the existing condenser, and that would cost about $200,000.

The town brings in about $90,000 in revenue from the rink, which Sondag said was not an insufficient amount, and she also said it would be beneficial to the town if the board could figure out which option would work at this time.

"I go back and forth on this. I still don't know if I have enough information," board member John Allen said while the board was contemplating its options. "I want to make sure the place is up and running, but I'm still not comfortable spending $300,000 or $400,000 on it."

After deciding to spend the money to fix the compressors the board said it wanted to do an in-depth study of its options going forward.

The board said at a future meeting it would debate whether a citizens' committee should be formed, or if the town will do its own study of the ice rink options.

Elizabeth McLarney, chairwoman of the Brattleboro Hockey Association Scholarship Committee, told the board that many of the children who receive skating scholarships do not have the option of traveling to another rink in New Hampshire or Massachusetts.

"For a lot of these kids being able to play hockey is life changing," she said. "Getting the rink open on time is a really important thing."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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