Byram Neighborhood Association Discuss New Rink Location, Traffic, Falling Rocks

At Monday night’s BNA meeting, the topic of a new Hamill Rink was foremost on the agenda.

List of benefits to Byram of the rink based on option A.

The existing rink doesn’t meet code. It was originally an outdoor rink that had roof walls added over the years.

The chair of the rink user committee Bill Drake, Rick Bouchard from the design firm SLAM, and Al Monelli, Greenwich’s Superintendent of Building Construction & Maintenance all fielded questions after again presenting “Option A.”

At last Wednesday’s rink user meeting, the agenda featured a vote on options A through E, but there wasn’t quorum for a vote. That said, rink user committee members have have previously expressed they favor Option A.

They have voted to prioritize the goal of not to lose two seasons of skating, which the presenters insisted would result if the new rink were to be built on the existing site.

Last Wednesday, during public hearing, people noted none of the options included building a new rink on the existing location, or renovating it.

That’s where the disagreement ended last time, and continued at the BNA meeting.

Option A puts a new rink in the north of the park, puts a new Strazza ball field in the location of the existing rink, and includes a 30 ft wide, two-lane access road with a sidewalk would come in from Western Jr Hwy.
A project timeline has a pre application being submitted to Planning & Zoning in September or October 2021. Nick Macri, a member of the rink committee and P&Z commission, said there was a misperception that P&Z had taken a stance on the rink project.
“Planning & Zoning has not seen or reviewed any aspect of this project whatsoever,” he said. “It is not scheduled or on an agenda yet. The commission has no position on this project. Specifically, the location or addition or construction of a road.”

As they did last week, Byram residents asked about the costs of renovating the existing rink compared to costs to build a new rink.

“I have a lot of problems with the math being thrown around,” said Mark Fichtel. “I’m concerned when I hear, ‘No they haven’t developed any of the costs for the road and blasting and managing storm water.’ We could be talking millions of dollars, not just a couple hundred thousand dollars. To move this forward without those numbers makes me very uncomfortable.”

Mr. Monelli said, “We can’t estimate something when we don’t know what we’re building. We need a building design so we can price it. Get a location so we can price it. That’s why the pre application to P&Z will answer some of those questions.”

One price that has been estimated was for GHS teams to pay $100,000 to rent ice time elsewhere.

BNA secretary Lucy von Brachel said, “One of the things that’s been frustrating to me is that early vote on not losing two seasons of ice time. As a neighbor and as a taxpayer, I think it’s irresponsible not to give the the wider Greenwich community a better understanding, comparatively, as to what the costs will be for moving the rink and for keeping it in the current location.”

“You owe it to taxpayers to consider both options, and I hope you do that.”

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Aging compressors and cooling equipment at Hamill Rink. Credit: Leslie Yager
Hamill Rink was an outdoor rink. Walls ceiling, roof and bleachers were added over the years.

Again, Mr. Drake repeated the argument that building the rink on the present site would result in the loss of two season for all users.

“Right, but we live here,” von Brachel said. “I have heard this. You’re talking about rink users, and there aren’t enough people on the committee that aren’t rink users to weigh in on that in any meaningful way.”

“The community is saying to you that we would like you to consider…presenting (using the existing site) as an option with estimates so we can compare before you make any major decision as to where you’re going to locate this rink.”

“We will commit to doing that,”Drake said. “I think what you’ll find is eliminating two seasons for all of Greenwich skaters – from 8 year old girls to 70 year old men – is not an option that the town would choose. We made a decision in 1971 to serve skaters – not hockey players. For 50 years we’ve served skaters.”

Mr. Drake said it wasn’t fair to all the children served by the rink that they have to wait two years.

“It would be as if the town said, ‘After 50 years of serving the town, we’re going to close the activity for two years.’ That would provoke a heck of a response.”

“Let’s think about the thousands of taxpayers,” von Brachel said.

KG&D Architects, working with the previous committee, created a site plan that would involve demolishing the 1971 rink building and constructing a new rink in the same spot, three additions – one in front for an entry, a service addition at the back, and locker addition at the south, but now the 5 options all relocate the rink.

Also von Brachel said she had heard from numerous residents that having a concession stand in the rink was important.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize how important that is to people, and how there is some skepticism about the reliance on food trucks,” she said.

State Rep from Meskers from the 150th district which includes Byram agreed. “If people can’t get their chicken nuggets and french fries at the ice rink, you probably have a bigger problem than where the lockers are.”

Mr. Drake said he would postpone discussion of food trucks to another day.

BNA vice chair Liz Eckert asked about potential contamination. She noted the rink’s proximity to Western Middle School where the discovery of contaminated soil has closed the school’s fields for several years.

Mr. Monelli said soil in the area of the rink was tested to a depth of 24 inches, and that arsenic was discovered, but much less than was discovered in Byram Park where a new pool complex was constructed.

“When we did the pool we had to remediate the entire area from the pool down to the beach because we encountered arsenic. Those levels were ten times higher than what we’re finding where the baseball field is.”

Mr. Meskers said Ms von Brachel had a good point and that residents wait years for other projects – everything from remediating Western Middle School’s fields to replacing the “mediocre and falling down” Eastern Greenwich Civic Center.

“When we deal with the Byram community, I hear Lucy, and we have the Western Middle School fields closed for five years. There’s an entire generation of kids at the school who never played on their own fields. I’m not arguing we therefore should punish the hockey players or ice skaters, but while it may be an imperative for the 1,000 users of the ice, it hasn’t been imperative for the kids at the middle school. It’s a rational question.”

“I would hate to deprive people, but I think it’s valid to look at it,” Meskers added.

Mr. Drake put the blamed the closed fields Western Middle School on Hartford.

“The way the Western Middle School children have been treated by Hartford, environmental and DEEP and such – is just plain awful. You know it better than anybody,” Drake said. “It’s a shame.”

“That’s not just Hartford,” Meskers said. “I’ve asked to champion our resolution to the issue, and there is a two step between what we’re willing to pay to resolve Western and what the state wants us to remediate. It’s not just that Hartford refuses to answer. Hartford has answered on Greenwich High School. When we have the full throated request from Hartford, I will go in with a sledgehammer.”

Traffic and Pedestrian Safety in Byram

As a follow up to the the BNA’s presentation to the Board of Selectmen on July 8 about unsafe intersections and speeding in Byram, Joe Kantorski, chair of the BNA, said he and Liz Eckert (vice chair) had a follow up meeting with First Selectman Fred Camillo.

He said DPW had already “judiciously trimmed” a tree blocking a school zone flashing light near James Street.

Ms von Brachel put together a map with 15 unsafe areas, particularly in the vicinity of New Lebanon School, and included photos and descriptions that they gave to Mr. Camillo, who in turn gave it to Jim Michel from DPW.

Mr. Kantorski said he’d received a text afterward from Camillo saying a new law had passed in Hartford that gives towns more control over setting speed limits and other safety measures.

Ms von Brachel brought up the topic of Frontage Road and the DPW project to reconfigure the medians and crosswalks in that vicinity. The work is set to start in August.

However, a statewide shortage of steel that will impact the steel mast arm for the traffic signal modifications.

“Steel, statewide is has been taking from 20 to 40 weeks to get confirmed delivery dates (of steel),” von Brachel said.

She said DPW plans to do the majority of the curb and sidewalk work this year, but the signal work and final paving may be delayed until next spring due to material availability.

Rock slide on Frontage Rd. July 20, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager

Rock Slide Blocking Sidewalk on Frontage Rd

As for the rock slide blocking the sidewalk on Frontage Rd, von Brachel said the rocks are privately owned and have to be removed by the owner.

DPW has been in touch with the property owner and they are working with a contractor to schedule the removal of the rocks.

See also:

As Port Chester Super-Sizes, Traffic Safety Issues Come to a Head in Byram

July 12, 2021

In-Person Hamill Rink User Committee Meeting Results in Confrontation during Public Comment

July 21, 2021

Veterans Blast Hamill Rink User Committee: “There Will Be Hell to Pay”

June 24, 2021

Rink User Committee Votes on 2-Way Access Road, Relocation of Hamill Rink Despite Veterans, BNA Objection

May 29, 2021

RTM Cuts $900 from Budget for Design Work for Hamill Rink at Eugene Morlot Park

May 11, 2021

Adding Access Road to New Hamill Rink Could Bump Users for at Least a Year A During Construction

May 6, 2021