Parks & Rec Board Discusses Plans for a New Dorothy Hamill Rink

In Greenwich, more than one generation of children have learned to skate at the town-owned rink in Byram, the Dorothy Hamill Rink, just up the hill from Western Middle School.

Rink Director, Rich Ernye, said that he’ll often talk to people who’ve learned to skate at the rink, and then return after having skated in college. Quite often, he said their observation having left and returned is that Hamill rink has the best ice around: Not too hard. Not too soft.

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Rich Ernye, who runs the Town-owned ice skating rink named after Greenwich’s Dorothy Hamill. Credit: Leslie Yager

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The Dorothy Hamill rink was originally open-air and has been upgraded piecemeal. It is in sore need of modernization. This photo appears on the wall at the ice rink.

Praise of perfect ice aside, the rink is in sore need of modernization.

There is no foyer or vestibule to serve as a buffer from the elements. The temperature in the rink mirrors the temperature outside. In the summer soccer, t-ball, flag football and lacrosse are played on turf in the rink. “When ice season begins in September and it’s still hot out, it’s hot in the rink,” said Ernye. There have been times the goal frame has melted into the ice.

There are other drawbacks beyond lack of climate control. There are no showers in the changing rooms and the rink is 15′ short of standard NHL length.

On Wednesday night, Greenwich’s Parks & Rec board were treated to a behind the scene tour of the facility. Though Ernye has his eyes set on an upcoming modernization of the rink, which has been on the Town’s back burner for years, he has been distracted by compressor malfunctions, which left the rink’s “warming area” and office without heat for weeks recently.

GHS varsity hockey

GHS boys hockey team in 2014 at Wesleyan University for an away game in Middletown. Credit Leslie Yager

“The GHS boys hockey team is number one in the state right now. We may have to stay open an extra work week,” said Ernye, explaining to the Parks & Rec board the consequence of having a winning GHS Boys ice hockey team.

Ernye said he is set to order a new Zamboni to replace the existing 15-year-old machine, which has its battery recharged when it is not in use.

After Ernye’s presentation to the Parks & Rec board, there was discussion of upgrades to the skating rink, which are on the horizon. Mr. Ernye and Sue Snyder, Superintendent of Recreation for Parks & Rec, said they hope to first research ice rinks in other towns.

“We would like to get educated and talk to some companies that design and construct rinks to get an idea of what can be done with this site,” Snyder said. “It’s not your typical building, like every other town building. …We don’t want to have to shut this down and not operate for a year. We want to serve our customers while a new facility is being built.”

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“Do I understand that everything is on the table from complete demolition to some type of renovation?” asked Frank Catelmo.

“Yes,” said Ernye, adding that he didn’t expect the town to sacrifice the rink’s original footprint. “If you’re going to spent $4.5 million, you’re going to look at the big picture. We want to compare with people who have built new rinks and throw out what’s on our wish list that is not practical.”

Snyder said there is a list of questions to be answered. “Does that mean we have a temporary structure in the meantime? Does it mean we shut this down and have another one built on top of this existing slab? We don’t know exactly what’s possible and what the numbers involved are,” she asked, adding that she and Mr. Ernye also want to learn what failed in other towns that built new rinks.

Rick Loh suggested a combination of public-private fundraising, which everyone agreed was a good idea.

“We just stuck our toe in the water,” Ernye said, referring to how early it is in the research and planning process.

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Jason Vien, longtime skating guard at Dorothy Hamill Rink rides the battery-charged electric Zamboni out of it’s parking area. Credit Leslie Yager

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Rich Ernye explained how the ice is maintained to Parks & Rec board members, while Rick Loh climbed aboard the 15-year-old electric Zamboni. Credit: Leslie Yager

The Town’s 30th annual skating competition is Sunday Feb. 22. Ernye said the competition will have just under 100 participants.

The last day of public skating sessions is Saturday, March 14.

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Beyond the warming area is a room that houses two sets of compressors and cooling equipment. Credit: Leslie Yager