Brattleboro Selectboard ices rink plan

Friday June 21, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- The Selectboard has decided to put off any decision for now on the ailing Nelson Withington Skating Rink because the estimates to fix the rink came in more than $100,000 over the amount of money that Town Meeting Representatives approved.

Recreation and Parks Director Carol Lolatte told the board Tuesday that only one bid came in to upgrade the failing equipment at the rink.

That estimate would cost the town about $471,000, Lolatte told the board, much more than the original estimate of $364,000 that Lolatte asked for at the March Representative Town Meeting.

At the time Lolatte said the town could replace all of the aging equipment with a more modern, ammonia-based system.

At the meeting Tuesday the board did not really decide what it was going to do to get the rink ready for the upcoming winter.

At the end of last winter both compressors failed and the town had to invest about $7,500 in the rink to keep the equipment going.

Lolatte said the town would have to sink more money into the existing equipment if the major project was not undertaken before the start of the skating season.

She did not have an accurate estimate Tuesday for that project, but said she would have information for the board soon.

Lolatte said investing in the equipment would be a "Band-Aid" and said the board was probably going to have make a more further reaching decision to ensure that the rink is available to the public into the future.

The town hired a company, IB Storey, to come up with the estimate and both Lolatte and Town Manager Barbara Sondag seemed frustrated that a professional company was paid to come up with an estimate, and then that estimate was so far off.

The only bid that came in before the deadline was from American Refrigeration, the company that currently maintains the town's equipment.

The board was also frustrated because the looming ice rink project has been dogged by last minute changes and inaccurate estimates from the start.

Information on the scope of the project was not delivered to the board, and to Town Meeting Representatives, until the day of the informational meeting, and then a few days before town meeting new information was released.

At the meeting Tuesday board member Ken Schneck said it was hard to make a far-reaching decision with so many moving parts still in play.

"Every time we hear about this there is a different story," Schneck said. "This is just one too many times."

Sondag defended the work to date, saying that the numbers did not necessarily change, but that the town has been learning about a large and complex project as it developed.

And she told the board members not to be afraid to change their minds or continue to ask questions before making a commitment.

Still, Sondag admitted that her staff was "ticked off" that the original estimate was so far off from the eventual bid.

At the meeting Tuesday Don Dompier, from Dompier Electric, cautioned the board from investing almost half a million dollars in the ammonia system.

Dompier, who has been working on refrigeration systems around Brattleboro for more than four decades, said any machine is a Band Aid that will require upkeep, attention, and eventually replacement.

Instead of making a decision on the ice rink the Selectboard asked Lolatte to get another estimate on what it might take to have the equipment up and running this winter.

She said if the board did want to invest in the new equipment, they would want to do that soon to make sure the rink would be open when the season starts. Otherwise, she said, it would probably take a month or so to work on the existing equipment and get it up and running in time for the winter.

Sondag announced at the meeting that it looked like the town was going to receive a $100,000 grant to help pay for the rink repairs.

Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said Town Meeting Representatives were told that it was possible a grant would be available, but he said the voters thought the potential grant would go toward paying off a $364,000 bill, and not one reaching almost half-a-million dollars.

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


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