New Hamill Rink to Be Rebuilt on Existing Footprint at Morlot Park in Byram

At Wednesday’s Hamill Rink User committee, chair Bill Drake announced that at the instruction of Greenwich’s First Selectman Fred Camillo, Building Construction & Management had submitted a new pre-application to P&Z that would site a new facility on the existing Hamill rink footprint.

Existing Hamill rink is tucked into the southeast corner of Morlot Park. A new rink will be constructed on its existing footprint.

The news came after months of contentious rink user committee meetings, during which representatives of the Byram Neighborhood Association and Byram Veterans in particular objected to the committee’s choice to relocate the rink to another part of Morlot Park – roughly to where Strazza Field is – and to add a two-lane access road via Western Junior Hwy.

At meeting after meeting, Byram residents said they did not want the large rink building in the middle of the park, bifurcating the green space, which already is limited in that densely developed part of town.

And, time and again, most of the rink user committee members emphasized the goal of not losing a season of ice.

Then, when the pre-application was presented in December to P&Z by Al Monelli, the superintendent of building construction and maintenance, Margarita Alban, P&Z chair, voiced concern about the environmental impact of extensive re-grading of the parkland that would be required to move the rink, noting vegetation, trees and plantings would all be removed in the process.

On Wednesday, Mr. Drake said simply, “That decision has been made, and that’s the basis on which the project will go forward.”

Per the narrative on file, “Keeping the ice rink in its current location will force the closure of the existing rink until construction is complete. This period of time can be anywhere from 28‐34 months.”

In his 2023 budget presentation, Mr. Camillo deferred the project for a year to allow the committee to get additional input and review the project scope.

Mr. Drake said Mr. Camillo would like to attend future committee meetings, but has a standing conflict at 10:00am. Meetings will move to 11:30am.

Drake shared a revised project schedule created by Al Monelli based on the change of location.

“The key thing to note is that we’re on the ice in 2027 in the rink,” Drake said.

There was discussion about surveying residents, which would cost about $50,000. Mr. Monelli said it would be conducted by phone using pre set questions from the various user groups.

During discussion, Nancy Leamy who runs Greenwich Skating School at Hamill rink, said most skate students were under nine years old, and public sessions were primarily used by young families with children.

Leamy went on to blame Byram elderly residents for being negative about the proposal to build a new rink in the middle of the park.

“Most of the people being negative about this project are, with all due respect, with the exception of a few, are retired people living around the rink,” Leamy said. “Quite frankly, we can see quite clearly that they do not want their life disturbed.”

“I know that they’ll argue they really want a new rink,” Leamy continued. “That’s all cover up for the basic fact that they don’t want to be disturbed in their golden years.”

Mr. Monelli, who has announced his retirement at the end of February, gave an overview of the new pre-application, saying the floor plan for the rink would remain the same.

He said while the new rink would stay in its place, it would be adjusted slightly to adhere to setback requirements.

Also, he noted the existing rink entrance is elevated, creating a barrier to ADA. To make the building totally ADA accessible, the current ground elevation of the existing rink, which is 6’ higher than the road, would be dropped in elevation so that the new building and the parking lot are near the same elevation.

Monelli said to leave the rink elevated would necessitate an 80 foot ADA ramp which would require switchbacks.

The new rink would sit back from Sue Merz Way to create a building entry plaza which would also serve as the curb side pick up and drop off.

Monelli suggested pushing back an existing berm to the south property line to lower the rink to the field level, avoiding ADA obstacles.

A food truck area could be located where it can service both the rink users and ball field users.

He said the new access road could service both the rink and the ball field.

Also, Monelli said drilling had been done to check for contamination, and rock samples were also taken.

A traffic study was under way.

Also Monelli said the parking lot could be further away from both the Veterans Memorial grove and the Strazza field outfield. Sue Merz Way could be designated one-way entrance so that people exiting in the winter could avoid descending the steep hill on Sherman.

As for Strazza field, it could be reoriented to the sun, giving an opportunity to crown the field, install the appropriate drainage and improve surfacing and playability after rain events.

Mike Bocchino said while he wasn’t initially in favor of turning the field, he had come around to the idea. But, he said, he was not a fan of the new access road.

“My concern is we need to take into consideration Western Middle School’s baseball program,” he said. Noting that WMS’s fields have been closed due to contaminated soil, he added, “If that field at WMS is still compromised and we move forward with this, they have no place to go for their season of ball.”

Brent Brower, general manager of the Greenwich Skating Club, brought up the issue of signage telling the public that there will be no baseball or hockey in the park during the project.

“The flip side of telling them when it’s closed it coming up with the best solution on where are people going to skate when the rink is closed,” said Rick Loh. “What is our plan for that?”

“We need a solution, that is probably some form of a seasonal or temporary rink somewhere in town so that thousands of users don’t have their activities canceled for multiple years,” Drake said.

Mr. Macri said a temporary rink plan should rise to the top of the list for the committee to work on.

“This and a (resident) survey should be right at the top,” Macri said.

Mr. Drake said purchasing ice time at other rinks was impossible.

“Ice is not available,” Brower said. “We scour for ice.”

Brower said the skating club purchases 250 to 300 hours at Hamill, plus hundreds of additional hours at Hommocks in Mamaroneck and at both Stamford Twin Rinks and Chelsea Piers every season.

Miriam Kreuzer from the BET wondered whether there was another ballfield with a 90 foot diamond that Byram players could use to save the cost of reconfiguring Strazza field.

Mr. Monelli explained that the pre-application was proposed to include food trucks instead of a concession stand. He said it would take more than 500 sq ft to meet code and cost the town well over $500,000.

“We’re trying to keep the costs down,” he added.

The new pre-application will be discussed at the Feb 15, 2022 Planning & Zoning meeting.

See also:

Veterans Blast Hamill Rink User Committee: “There Will Be Hell to Pay”
June 24, 2021