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

On Wednesday the design firm SLAM presented 5 rough site layouts for a new Hamill Rink, parking and 300 ft Strazza ball field. There were no price tags on any of the five options.

All five options featured a new access road to the site via Western Jr Highway. For 50 years access, including to team buses, has been via a steep hill through a residential neighborhood with only a short section of sidewalk on Sherman Ave.

Also stressed was the goal of maintaining setbacks from Eugene Morlot Park’s Memorial Grove where 13 trees are dedicated to servicemen from Byram who gave their lives for their country.

All the options relocate the rink to a new spot on the 13.4 acre site, which would mean users, including GHS hockey, Greenwich Skating Club, and Jr Cardinals would need alternative ice for a year, possibly more since the road would extend the overall timeline.

Existing 13+ acres at Eugene Morlot Park with rink at south east corner of the park, plus five options for alternate designs, all of which relocate the rink.

Al Monelli, Greenwich’s Superintendent of Building Construction & Maintenance, said a previous committee urged including the new access road to alleviate traffic from Ivy, Sherman and Sue Merz Way. They also urged that a new rink not touch or be built near the Memorial Grove.

All the 5 designs options featured pink lines around the trees, to designate both a 50 ft setback, and a 75 ft setback.

The proposed new rink is 42,000 sq ft, which is larger than the existing rink, though it is not designed for more people. Rather it includes facilities currently lacking, including lockers, showers and bathrooms.

Rich Bouchard from SLAM said in all options the new road would be located at the north of the property because due to grading, that is where the differential between the platform for the ballfield and the road are closest. He said the road would necessitate 12 trees being removed.

He said the existing field, which has to be redone to meet current storm water regulations, would ideally be used as a staging lot for the project.

Bouchard said it was early to know the number of required parking spaces.

Francia Alvarez from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy said today there are requirements for tree wells in new parking lots.

Rick Loh of the Parks & Rec board and rink committee said he was concerned for neighbors to have the ballfield so close. He asked if it were possible to keep the existing rink open during construction.

He also wondered if there was a reason the rink was originally located where it is today.

“When we looked at this over the years a thought was to replace the rink while it was out of service and put a temporary rink on the field…to at least get the school teams through the year for practice,” Loh said.

Mr. Bouchard said the rink had to be shut down for demolition regardless, but that there would be a shorter shut down if it is put on the existing parking lot or the ballfield. “Maybe it’s a season instead of two.”

“There’s baseball too. We’re talking about two different sports in two different seasons,” he added, noting that the road is a significant amount of work, and would lengthen the time for construction.

Fred Camillo said 15 years ago Murray Cook of Major League Baseball looked at Strazza field and noted it should be better oriented. He also noted there is a huge center field that is not necessary, and reconfiguring the field might yield “some needed real estate for the rink.”
“You could probably get a bigger rink where it is now, keep the parking where it is and keep the access road,” Camillo said. “We have a sketch, a slide presentation of what the new Strazza field would look like with home plate located in the present left field location.”

Keith Orrico, president of Greenwich Blues, said if all the options involve shutting down the rink for a year it was highly unlikely his group would survive.

“There is no way we surrender a season of GHS hockey,” said Bill Drake who chaired the meeting. “No way. We will not choose an alternative that drives a line through a season at GHS. You can have some confidence on that one.”

Mike Bocchino of the committee who is also on the Parks & Rec board, questioned the need for the access road, especially noting it would lengthen the overall time for construction and impact users, especially GHS hockey.

“What’s the premise? What’s the need?” he asked.

“I’m not a fan of any of the options,” Bocchino added. “I think knowing we are not going to be able to keep the rink open, and it is going to effect Western Middle School because that’s where they play their games.”

Bocchino said it would be important to get more input from the Byram community.

“I didn’t say we’d lose the rink for a year. This is definitely a two-year project, not a one year,” Monelli said.

Mr. Bouchard said he wanted to investigate the idea of keeping the rink open while building its replacement.

It was noted there are other baseball fields in town, but only one rink.

Kevin Herrick from SLAM said his firm could create some construction logistics scenarios before the next meeting.

“We can lay out plans so you can minimize hockey shut downs,” he said.

Nick Macri from Byram who is also a member of the P&Z commission, said the new road made sense because it would bring in visiting teams on buses etc via Western Jr Highway, a “local collector” connecting directly to the Post Rd, opposed to continuing to have traffic move up Sherman Ave through a local residential neighborhood. Also, he noted there is a sidewalk on Western Jr Highway, but only a short section of sidewalk on Sherman.

Bill Drake said adding the road was “based on common sense.” He noted that for 50 years, an important facility’s only access was via a steep hill and through a residential neighborhood, despite being so close to “an important road,” Western Junior Highway.

Option A shows the parking lot moving into the setbacks for the memorial grove. Also the field is “tight to neighbors” and nor oriented ideally toward the sun.
Option B brings the field size into question because left field is directly into the rink so the curve is not perfect. And like Option A it is tight to the neighbors and would require high netting to preserve foul balls from neighbors. A plus is that the field, like Option A, is oriented ideally.
Option C moves the rink across the to where the existing parking lot is. However it goes well into the setbacks for the Memorial Grove. In this design the rink would have to be modified to “get its corner essentially up in the air” because of the steep drop to the west.
Option D swaps proposed parking with proposed Strazza field so that parking is in the northwest corner and field is in the location of the existing ice rink. The square footage of the ice rink would need to be “massaged” because it comes into the 50 and 75 ft setbacks for the Memorial Grove.
Option E rotates the rink so that the front door faces the Memorial Grove. Al Monelli said it might be beneficial to feature a sitting wall and a plaque in recognition of the Memorial Grove “to highlight it, not hide it.”
View of some of the Sycamore trees in the Memorial Grove in Eugene Morlot Park. Photo: Leslie Yager

During public comment, Sylvester Pecora, Sr noted the fields at WMS had been closed for contamination for several years and that made their access to Strazza field more important.

Pecora said he objected to designs that put the rink so close to the Memorial Grove because they “hide the memorial park.”

“The rink is important, but my kid brother is there,” Pecora said, growing emotional. “I don’t want it hidden.”

Don Sylvester, commander of the Byram Veterans Association, said his organization was totally opposed to relocating the rink. He said it should be renovated, not relocated.

He said there was documentation indicating the 13+ acres were dedicated to Eugene Morlot Park and not another inch could be blacktopped.

“When they built the Hamill rink, that little corner of the property was per se given to build a rink. I believe, in 1990, they wanted to expand the parking lot by a few more spaces for the rink. And at the time – it could have been under Francis Keegan of Parks & Rec – they stated there would be no more expansion on that property. Not one more inch of blacktop put on that property because of its designation, which is Eugene Morlot Park.”

“Our Byram Veterans Association, we’re stewards of that memorial and as far as I’m concerned we will not tolerate any more expansion onto that property,” Sylvester said.

Mr. Monelli said there would be multiple opportunities for public input including each time it goes before P&Z, Wetlands and ARC.

“We want to respect you and your organization,” Drake said.

The next meeting was set for 11:00am on May 26.