Letter: Seasonal, Open Air Skating Rink in New Canaan

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[Editor’s Note: The following letter was sent March 6 to New Canaanite.]

We are very encouraged by the increasing pace of interest, questions, and feedback we’ve been gathering with regard to the proposed ice rink in our town. While at this time our planning is not advanced enough to answer any and all questions, we feel that that it is time to address a number of areas of interest to the community by sharing our progress in researching the major elements involved in making this rink a reality.

Background and Basics

What kind of ice skating rink are we proposing? An open air ice skating rink primarily for our community’s recreational use (versus primarily for organized sports). with lots of open skate time for people of all ages – kids, families, seniors, etc. The rink would be open from late November through February, and dismantled when not in use.

How did this concept originate? What started out as a simple suggestion (thank you Keith Simpson) that having an ice skating rink right here in New Canaan could be as simple as boarding up a flat area of land and having an NCFD fire truck come and fill it with water, has evolved into an approach that, while more complex, promises a significantly more consistent, rewarding, and safe skating experience than that offered by skating on town ponds. 

Who is this for? Our intention is to create a community gathering spot at the proposed rink with lots of open skate time and activities for a variety of interest groups: Park and Rec programs, families, teens, curlers, YMCA, etc. The proposed rink will provide skate time for anyone interested in just getting out on the ice and enjoying an open air skating experience with very flexible time frames, including staying for as long as the rink is open (excluding special events).

Can kids and families skate outside now? There usually is no ‘natural’ ice at Mead or Mill Pond, and when there is, it is not thick enough for safe skating. The few times it is, the quality of the ice is poor. The quality and consistency of the ice on the proposed rink will make for a substantially better skating experience than on a frozen pond. For parents, this could mean kids can ice skate safely in town, with nature as a backdrop, and benefit from amenities and activities not otherwise available. There is an outdoor ice rink in town (The Winter Club), but only members can skate there. 

How big would the rink be? The proposed rink would be 120 x 60ft – less than half the size of an NHL rink. This size is optimal for community skating with its main goal to serve as a recreational facility, but not large enough to have organized hockey tournament play. That said, its size can offer our HS hockey teams an opportunity to hold practice drills and would also be appropriate for curling, learn-to-skate programs, etc.

What amenities will be offered? What will families need to bring? Our aim is to create a one-stop shop for recreational ice skating where the community can gather to enjoy the season. We recognize many families will want to comfortably watch their children on the ice while also having a place to socialize and care for their youngest family members. To that end, we plan on having an enclosed and heated space for on site bathrooms, and a gathering space with tables and benches for families and skaters to change into their skates, socialize, and snack. In addition, there will be a skate rental and sharpening shop – no ice skates necessary.

Will there be a snack shop or food trucks? We know that a successful facility will be kid-friendly and when there are kids then there are bound to be snacks! The winterized facility will allow families to take breaks and munch on whatever snacks they care to bring. Over time, we envision an outside vendor that could provide simple choices like popcorn, hot chocolate, burgers, etc. which will help make the rink an often frequented winter venue for families.

Projecting Initial Costs & Sources of Funding

How will the rink be paid for? We envision a public/private funding effort modeled along the lines of how our town pool was started and is currently operated. The bulk of the funding will be from admission charges and private donations, as well as skate rentals and sharpening services. Our goal is to raise between $550,000 to $800,000, the majority of these funds would be for initial startup expenses. which, along with the admission charges and limited town support, will enable us to get the rink up and running for 2 years. The $250,000 range difference reflects the existence of numerous options in how to best achieve the objectives outlined above. To give our benefactors a tax incentive, we expect to apply for tax-exempt status as a 501c organization with the IRS. 

Should the town budget cover any of the costs? We hope that our town will provide $50,000 to $70,000 of funding for each of the first two years. A great example of this public/private funding approach is the pool in Waveny Park. This has been a big success, and the pool bonds will be totally paid off in 3 years, which will enable this town jewel to be truly self sustaining and either expand services or lower admission charges at no cost to the town. 

What about the costs after the first two years? Our proposed town contributions after the first 2 years would be $50,000/yr or less. We expect that it will be less, but it would be premature to assume so at this time. Additionally, the proposed cuts to the Kiwanis summer program would cover these amounts meaning no net increase in taxes.

Are there any other budget impacts? No, and to add some perspective, the town (via the BOE’s budget and town budget) pays about $75,000/yr just for varsity hockey teams ice rental time. While the rink would not allow for full hockey games, the teams could use the rink for some practice activities and be less constrained by the limited availability of indoor rink time.

Has any town money been spent already? Recently the Board of Supervisors agreed to release $7,500 from a Special Projects Fund. The funds were raised from private donors about 12 years ago for the sole purpose of funding an ice rink in New Canaan. When those efforts were not realized, the unused portion, about $10,000, was deposited into the Special Projects Fund. These funds are not the property of the town, the town is merely acting as a trustee for said funds. 

Maintenance & Operations

Who will operate the rink? We anticipate that the rink will be operated by either a 501c, or under the direct control of New Canaan’s Park and Recreation Commission. If the rink is operated by a 501c, its general program parameters (hours, prices, etc) would still be reviewed and approved by New Canaan’s Parks and Recreation Commission. Regarding actual daily rink operations, we would need to hire a person or organization familiar with the many day-to-day details associated with running an outdoor skating rink as this requires specialized hands-on knowledge of the many factors, including weather, involved in creating a great user experience on outdoor ice.

How will the ice be maintained and kept frozen? The rink would use electric powered chillers to ensure that the ice is cold enough to skate on during most of the 3 months the rink is in operation. We will also have ice cleaning and resurfacing equipment designed for smaller rinks, or at a higher cost, Zamboni style equipment.

Establishing a Seasonal Home for New Canaan’s Rink

How will we pick a location? An appropriate location for a rink is dependent on a number of factors – flatness of property, access to 460V 3 phase electricity, running hot and cold water, bathroom facilities, parking, and, ideally, an enclosed and heated space. 

Does New Canaan have a location that can meet these requirements? We have examined most all of the appropriate public properties in town and invested significant time into researching the many factors related to the successful operation of a rink. While initially a number of locations seemed suitable, as we learned more and more about the details, we concluded that Waveny and Kiwanis parks were most suitable for our requirements. Some people have suggested that Kiwanis is too small of a park for an ice rink, even calling it a pocket park. Many people don’t realize that Kiwanis is actually 17 acres, almost the same size as Mead Park.

What is the impact on our property values? Generally real estate brokers feel that having a family-oriented rink with lots of open skate time located in a town park close to the center of town would have a positive impact on New Canaan’s real estate prices versus nearby towns such as Darien, Greenwich, Westport, and Wilton.

If Kiwanis is the chosen location, how will this affect neighbors and the Exchange Club? There are a few possible locations at Kiwanis which are under consideration. Each one has different pros and cons including: parking, possible impacts on neighbors, costs, accessibility, and flatness of the ground, and floodplains encroachment. We will review these locations and their associated impacts with the neighbors and the Exchange Club before we formally apply to the appropriate town bodies for formal approvals.

When will the rink open? We would love to have families enjoying skating together on New Canaan’s own outdoor rink this fall, but more realistically are hoping to open in the fall of 2021.

13 thoughts on “Letter: Seasonal, Open Air Skating Rink in New Canaan

  1. Thanks for working on another town amenity. As co chairman of the mill river park in stamford that has an newly built outdoor rink I would be happy to offer any help needed. We have found it’s a great community builder attracting young and old.

  2. Great asset that our town could use to draw buyers to our already great community. New Canaan has so many great amenities this would actually add Winter fun and keep our residents in New Canaan vs going to surrounding towns.

  3. “Many people don’t realize that Kiwanis is actually 17 acres, almost the same size as Mead Park.”
    Actually the 17 acres of Kiwanis Park cannot be compared to the same acreage in Mead Park. The western portion of Kiwanis Park is completely wooded with many dead or downed trees. Nestled in the northern portion is the home of the New Canaan Community Nursery School with a large playground and parking for staff and visitors. The southern portion of Kiwanis Park is a beach with spring-fed pond and a beach pavilion. Sandwiched between the nursery school and the pavilion/beach is a small area that the Exchange Club utilizes to sell its 1300+ trees and 1,700 wreaths—something that they have done for many years. Kiwanis Park is located in a residential area surrounded by homes which will be negatively impacted by the proposed ice rink.

  4. An unnecessary and amorphously funded “public / private” project costing $800,000 in the first year and tens of thousands per annum in the town budget thereafter. Where are the budget “hawks” now?

    • Hawkish to think a BOE operating budget up 4% this year and a headline of likely up 5.5-6% next year is unnecessary, or just requiring some common sense and objective analysis?

      Perhaps some of these “hawks” — not really the case — are trying to look at the big picture, as there are only so many fights to wage for common sense spending/taxation.

      You advocate for constant increases in a $93 million budget regardless of the environment that will contribute to our tax rate going up ~40% over several years (and likely much higher in the next few years) but split hairs for a project that may cost 1/10,000th of that on an annual basis, if that. Not saying you are wrong in this case but penny wise, pound foolish?

      • James,

        I’ve never “advocate[d] for constant increases in a $93 million budget,” nor does this year’s Board of Education budget include a 4% increase (as the BoE recently made clear in response to the same argument). But the topic is not education, it is the proposal for a wasteful and unnecessary ice rink at town expense. Since the costs of an offsite lunch meeting of educators was enough to draw your attention last year, I would have thought an unfunded $800,000 potential addition to town expenses associated with this ice rink project would have done so too.

        • John, looking at data would be helpful. The $550,000 – $800,000 you refer to is what these individuals intend to raise privately. If they don’t, I can’t imagine a fiscal conservative like Tom O’Dea would say the taxpayers should be on the hook for it. Nor would I be supportive of that.

          As for the BOE, you are again, wrong. Here are the facts: the BOE’s Operating Budget was $79,145,162 in FY 19-20. The BOE’s Proposed Operating Budget for FY 20-21 is $82,490,213, an increase of 4.23% year-over-year. Those numbers are from the town CFO and are publicly available. I guess you didn’t see them before advocating for the budget, and are still clearly ignorant of it.

          Yes, I do think an expensive offsite(s) at Giovanni’s on the Water in Darien on emotional intelligence with a sizable group of BOE administrators is a questionable way of spending taxpayer money. If you don’t, please feel free to subsidize this portion of their expenses. Note that these offsite expenses are hidden within other line items within the BOE’s budget. The budget that I’m guessing you still have not ever looked at.

          Please keep on going. I love discussing issues of transparency and budgeting using actual data rather than just opinions.

    • At this time we cannot definitively answer this very good question, but believe so. All our proposed sites and solutions do not require stairs, for example the Kiwanis Pavilion, and access to the rink is typically just a few inches above ground level and typically have a small, low incline ramp. Additionally, at this point we are not aware if an ice rink requires some type of special ADA capability – for example – think of ADA requirements for a pool.

    • Yes, we have, and the Parks Department, which is different than the Parks and Recreation Commission, has concluded that the presence of a skating rink in the winter would mean that the start time needed for spring field preparation would be delayed enough that it would in turn delay the start of spring baseball practice.

  5. Love the idea — just went to a similar community outdoor rink in Minnesota. Small loop rink with a couple of “islands”, a handrail all around, benches outside, and an indoor snack bar/rental concession with benches and cubbies. But given the expense, you need to be sure it would be used!

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