On Monday the town issued an RFP for ice skating rink operations and management. Those who have been following the arduous, often acrimonious rink user group meetings, this is an interesting development.
For the past couple years, the rink project has been mired down in discussions about whether a new access road to the rink via Western Jr Hwy was necessary versus the current access via Smith Street North, which features a relatively steep hill.
There were seemingly endless discussions over whether to tie the rink project in with a relocated and reconfigured Strazza ball field. The idea was as long as the staging for the rink was going to be on the field, why not redo the field and orient it properly.
And there were considerations of the Western Middle School students who use the field in lieu of their own fields which have been fenced off for years due to soil contamination.
There were accusations of encroachment onto the veterans memorial grove in the corner of the park by the former Byram School. And there were questions about removing a swath of Byram’s remaining tree canopy at the north end of the park to make room for a two way road and sidewalk.
Couple all those issues with discussions about Greenwich having to live without ice during construction and the need for a temporary rink. Alas that came with a price tag to the tune of millions of dollars.
Sprinkle in the accusations that anyone balking at the expanded project as being “against a new rink.”
The 350 member strong Byram Neighborhood Association said of course they wanted a new rink, but they questioned the need to situate it smack in the middle of Eugene Morlot Park, which they consider the neighborhood’s only green space.
Further they questioned the new rink being the size of a Walmart, even though there would be no concession stand, but rather a food truck area.
In December 2021 the proposal went before the P&Z commission. It included a new access road, new Strazza field and new rink. The commission balked, noting the work would require a tremendous amount of site disturbance.
“I understand that to get the correct, larger baseball field you would relocate the rink, but the amount of re-grading you’d need to do, and with the impact on surrounding residential uses, the question is whether there is a better way this site can fit with the neighborhood, and its tradition of open space and plantings and mature trees,” said P&Z chair Margarita Alban.
Fast forward to this week and the Sept 12 RFP.
“The Town is seeking a Vendor, ideally a non-profit community organization, to assume operations of the Town’s ice skating rink,” the RFP says.
“The selected Vendor would run day-to-day operations, manage all programming and staffing, and handle building and equipment maintenance.”
In a section titled Background mentions that the town seeks to “reduce the financial burden through effective external management.”
The RFP deadline is 11:00am on Wednesday Oct 12, 2022.
The Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink is located on Sue Merz Way, and was constructed in 1971 as an outdoor rink with a 2,400 sf detached building and 185’ x 85’ ice surface.
The building contained one office, a rental room, one changing room, two toilet rooms, a Zamboni room, and a mechanical room. Separate subsequent projects added a roof system, exterior walls, interior alterations, the construction of spectator seating with locker rooms below, and the addition of a dehumidification system.
During the off-season, the rink is converted into an indoor carpeted turf area and is available for use by indoor sports programs such as soccer and lacrosse.
However, the lack of air conditioning limits the demand for summer indoor rentals.
The rink is closed for approximately 4 weeks between the winter and summer seasons to transition from ice to turf and back from turf to ice.
Scope of Services
According to the RFP, the Town is seeking a qualified third-party Vendor to operate the skating rink and manage the facility.
The selected Vendor will be responsible for all staffing and equipment necessary to operate the rink.
Staff will be employees of the selected Vendor. Operating equipment and supplies will be purchased and owned by the selected Vendor.
The selected Vendor will have broad latitude to operate the skating rink on a day-to-day basis, however, the Town’s stated goals of this RFP shall be achieved.
At a minimum the selected Vendor shall also provide at least 415 hours of public skating, at fees determined by the Board of Selectmen, with a public skate schedule approved by the Parks and Recreation Director (Town will not pay for ice time; however, the Vendor will keep the revenue collected from each public skate admission ticket)
The vendor shall provide 50 hours of ice time, at no charge to the Town, for a learn to skate Skating School Program.
The vendor shall provide at least 220 hours of ice time, at a fee determined by the Board of Selectmen, for Greenwich Public School’s hockey teams and paid for by Greenwich Public Schools.
Hours for these identified programs must reasonably reflect the current services provided to the community.
The vendor shall include options for residents of Greenwich with income limitations.
The selected Vendor should consider expanding the operating season of the ice rink from its current level of service.
The selected Vendor should also consider providing services for differently abled people.
The Respondents may include proposals for concession services, skate shops, and more, which would go along with their proposed operations and services. Planning and Zoning approvals allow for operation between the hours of 7:00 am and 11:00 pm, seven days per week.
Ideally, the selected Vendor, through assuming responsibility for facility management, will provide any necessary funds for capital investment, including a replacement rink and capital equipment. The primary value the Town has to contribute is the land, as well as the existing facility and equipment for the initial operation. Options for long range capital investment to build a new rink may include, but are not limited to:
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Parks & Rec director Joseph Siciliano said the idea for the RFP originated in a conversation he had with then assistant director Blaize Levitan, town administrator Ben Branyan and First Selectman Fred Camillo.
He explained that the RFP should represent the beginning of a “conversation.”
“People can put in their proposals and we can have a detailed conversation about what the organization might need to operate and run the facility,” Siciliano said.
“We wanted to be perfectly clear that we carved out what the Town needs, including hours of public session ice time, skating school instruction, hockey programs for all levels at Greenwich High School,” Siciliano continued.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, First Selectman Fred Camillo said there was both a short term and along term component to the RFP.
“That’s what we’re excited about,” he said. “In talking to hundreds of users of the rink since I’ve been in this office, I think this is going to be something embraced by the residents and users of the rink and we’ll make sure we incorporate everybody’s views in the process.”
Camillo said the questions at hand are what the rink will look like when it’s done and “whether the town wants the rink to continue as it had been or in this modern age.”
He noted that hockey and various skating programs are very popular but the town has limited ice time.
That said,he noted that many years ago P&Z approved the rink being open earlier.
“Maybe having an outside vendor run it could produce a better product for the users of the facility,” he added.