LETTER: Bill Drake’s beloved ice rink comes across as ‘It’s my turn to spend money.’

Submitted by David Wold

Reading the letter from Bill Drake (Drake: The Real State of Our Town Infrastructure March 4, 2023) a Republican member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation who lists how they have spent nearly $250 million in infrastructure in Greenwich over the last 17 years, and I wish he had called it “conservative spending,” not just spending money.

But reading more, you can understand it is not a matter of being ‘conservative,’ but more about ‘what we want to support’ as you see he is placing his beloved skating rink on the ‘must do list’ while we will see cuts in other places. It comes across as, ‘It’s my turn to spend money.’

We all know Mr. Drake has chaired the various rink committees for 6 years now, and steered the project first from a renovation at about $4.5 million. Eventually, with the wish lists of the skating clubs, including his own, the biggest users of this public funded rink, the price ballooned to $16 million.  

We have seen the ‘battle’ between his rink and other priorities in town like the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center, that also has ballooned, but not at the same rate. It all started when a well used ‘consulting group’ for many projects found the cost of renovating the rink with the ‘wish list’ and an ‘all-new’ rink were identical.

Then, when the RTM approved the funding for SLAM to prepare the 30% necessary for submission for Municipal Improvement (MI) status, the Town went out and announced they were willing to spend $16 million on a new rink and we quickly heard from 5 major firms who ‘could do it within budget’ and one was selected. Today, three years later, the ‘estimate’ has changed to $21 million.

The cost of renovation today? Nobody knows. But the same firm that got the job for a new rink for $16 million, now $21 million, also won a tender to renovate a similar size rink at about $6 million.

Reading the letter again, the narrative is that the rink is 52 years old, and same was done 4 years ago towards BET and RTM, but it is only the slab that is that old and needs to be replaced, but can be done for a few million dollars.

It is like saying the rink is only 6 months old, as we make new ice surface at the start of each season.

The building itself is about 35 years and the bleachers, locker rooms, bathrooms etc., inside is not even 30 years old and then it was built to code.

Codes change, ADA  requirements change nearly each year and I find it surprising the Committee does not have one representative from First Selectman’s ADA Committee on it. I believe once the Chair of that Committee attended the monthly meetings and took one look at what had already been presented to P and Z and ‘killed it’.

Remind you ‘renovation’ to code started at $4.1 million at current location.

So when it comes to Greenwich’s only public skating rink, I would say ‘there is very little Conservative fiscal spending plan’ by this BET member’s narrative.

I suggest the BET move carefully forward on the newest price cost jump from $16 to $21 million and follow the Board of Parks & Rec’s recommendation that it ‘needs  further investigation and development’ before we go ahead and spend likely close to $30 million on a ‘brand new’ rink and associated costs.