Parks officials are proposing a seasonal, open-aired ice rink in New Canaan that would be open to the public with an admission charge.
To be used primarily for recreational ice skating and limited sports practice, the rink should be located on town property, preferably in a public park, under a proposal developed by Gene Goodman of the Parks & Recreation Commission.
Funded under a public-private partnership similar to the self-sustaining Waveny Pool, the facility would run from late-November through February for two trial seasons in order to gauge public interest, costs and appropriate rink size, and out-of-towners would be charged higher admission fees, according to a summary provided by Goodman, who has led the appointed body’s efforts to study the possibility of a rink for nearly one year.
Though the project is too early-stage for the Commission or another town body to ask for funding or formal approval to pursue the rink—that process will require multiple public hearings and sign-off from the selectmen, Board of Finance, Town Council and likely the Planning & Zoning Commission—Parks & Rec members at their Jan. 9 meeting “agreed that this would be a benefit to our town and agreed that we should proceed to next steps,” according to Goodman.
“The rink would be operated on a trial basis for one to two seasons as a semi-turnkey operation by a vendor capable of providing the capital equipment, materials, expertise, and personnel needed to set-up, operate, dismantle, and off season storage of the rink’s equipment and materials,” Goodman said in his summary. (A vendor’s services would not include items such as electrical connectivity, electric charges, insurance or security fencing, he said.)
“This approach avoids the need for the upfront purchase of expensive items such as chillers, pumps, valves, coolant lines, dasher boards, Zamboni or Olympia ice resurfacers, and temporary structures” such as an office, and optional changing room, skate and skate sharpening shop, Goodman said.
He added, “While the turnkey approach avoids the up front capital costs, it incurs a much higher annual cost as the shifting of the capital costs to a vendor’s rental costs adds significantly to the vendor’s charges. We also intend to explore the possibility of utilizing a synthetic ice approach. While there are some downsides to this approach—one is that it must be on a flat, paved surface—there are also substantial financial and operational advantages. At the conclusion of Phase 1 we will have a better knowledge of community interest, ticket sales, operating costs, and equipment and materials maintenance and replacement costs to better enable us to determine if the rink can be self-sustaining.”
New Canaan’s Tom O’Dea, who also has been working on the ice rink proposal, has agreed to help lead fundraising efforts, Goodman said. An estimated $300,000 would need to be raised for the trial alone, he said.
Should that trial prove successful, Goodman said in his summary, “then additional private donations would be required to purchase the capital equipment and materials necessary for a more permanent rink. “
“The amount needed ranges from about $380,000 to $550,000,” he said, adding: “Hopefully town assistance would be in the $6,000 to $10,000 range per year. It is possible, though, that a single larger fundraising effort, which would lower the initial operating costs, and eliminate the need for a second round of fund raising, may be a better approach.”
During an interview with NewCanaanite.com, Goodman said that demand for a public ice rink in town would appear to be very high, as many locals belong to the New Canaan Winter Club or even have rinks on their own properties. A similar facility in Westport generates revenues of $250,000 per year, he said, and in broaching the possibility with locals including the first selectman and members of the Town Council, enthusiasm for a rink is high.
Yet “due to a good degree of warm weather, lack of care, no ability to resurface the ice, and the danger of thin ice, these facilities are often not suitable for ice skating and are rarely used,” Goodman said.
In deciding on a location for a possible future rink, the town should find a location that is as level as possible and adequate not just for an approximately 120-by-60-foot rink itself, but also areas for fencing, visitor viewing and equipment such as chillers, power supplies and Zamboni tent, under Goodman’s proposal. The site also must offer adequate parking, lighting, access to winterized water and bathroom facilities, and access to electricity, he said.
Goodman said local landscape architect Keith Simpson inspired him to pursue the project on behalf of the town—Simpson had made a formal proposal about a rink at Mead Park in July 2015.