With New Ice Rink Proposed on Existing Site, Questions Move to Strazza Field, Access Road, Temporary Rink

After a year of meetings where Byram residents and local veterans were pitted against the Hamill Rink User Committee and their design vendor SLAM over where to construct a new ice rink, a new application from DPW to P&Z envisions the new rink on its existing footprint: a victory for the neighborhood.

The Rink User Committee, which had minimal representation from the neighborhood, had sought to build a new rink in the middle of 13+ acre Morlot park, essentially swapping the existing rink location with Strazza field. That would avoid a loss of ice time because the current rink could remain in use during construction.

Byram neighbors said that would bisect the park, taking the focus off green space and making the rink the centerpiece.

On Tuesday, Al Monelli, DPW’s Superintendent of Building Construction & Maintenance, presented new plan to the Planning & Zoning commission.

While the plan to put the new rink in the existing rink location represents a victory for the neighborhood, the disagreements are far from over.

The proposal includes a new access road to the rink via Western Jr Hwy and improvements to Strazza field.

Monelli pitched a reoriented Strazza field, rotated 180° to keep the sun out of batters’ eyes, and a fence, though he said its height was uncertain.

“The only reason this field is being turned is because they have to shoehorn this road in. They’re putting home plate in the most remote part of the field.”

Don Sylvester, Commander of the Byram Veterans Association

Redoing the ball field would result in significant site disturbance, and during public comment, Lucia Jansen, who chairs the RTM’s Budget Overview Committee, questioned the scope of the project.

“We are still looking far beyond what was presented to the RTM for approval, which was a rink replacement,” she said. “We seem to be now in a reconfiguration of a park, an essential greenspace park in the Byram community. A lot more information needs to be shared in terms of a road that perhaps may still be part of this, the reconfiguration of the ball field, and the impact to trees and the landscape.”

“It just seems to me that we went from a rink replacement to the reconfiguration of a park, which is farm more than the scope discussed ever before….We went from a rink to a park.”

– Lucia Jansen, RTM Budget Overview Committee chair

P&Z chair Margarita Alban noted Ms Jansen’s question was one for both the BET and the RTM.

“She’s raised it for you, and you address it as you see fit,” she said to Mr. Monelli. “That’s not our wheelhouse.”

There was some good news everyone did agree on, which was that environmental testing had been completed and revealed no contamination on the existing site.

Monelli said there was a plan to study traffic the following night at the final GHS hockey game of the season.

He also talked about ADA accessibility. He said the new rink would not sit atop rock as it does today. Rather, six feet of rock would be blasted so the rink could sit level to the field and parking lot. Otherwise, he said it would be necessary to build 80 feet of switchback ramps.

Tuesday was Mr. Monelli’s last time before P&Z, as he is retiring at the end of the month. He said Project Manager Luigi Romano would take over.

Monelli said the proposed 40,500 sq ft rink would have four locker rooms, individual shower shower rooms, first aid area, space for refrigeration, electric and Zamboni, public bathrooms, separate bathrooms for skaters and an office.

He explained that a regulation ice rink surface is 200 feet by 85 feet, which is standard size for professional NHL teams, college teams, high school teams and youth teams. It’s also the proper size for figure skaters.

Today, Dorothy Hamill Rink, at 185 feet long, is less than regulation size.

The new rink would accommodate an 11-month ice season. That leaves a one month maintenance period. It would have a solar-ready roof and the ability to air condition the building. Currently, during the summer the heat builds up, making it difficult to host parks programs there.

As for the ballfield, Monelli said Strazza field was currently of limited use, not only due to its orientation to the sun, but because it has a shortened outfield.

“It’s really restricted to Jr Babe Ruth. You can’t play high school ball there. Adults can’t play hard ball there,” he said. “The ultimate diamond size would be 300 feet for the outfield.”

“By turning the field you increase the line from home plate to the outfield fence to 300 feet, which is the opportune distance for pretty much any age group,” Monelli said.

Today Greenwich has six 90-foot baseball diamonds, including Strazza Field. The existing 90-foot diamond at Western Middle School is out of use due to soil contamination.

Monelli said Parks & Rec needed at least five 90-foot diamonds to operate their baseball program, and that any plan to that involves Strazza Field would have to be sequenced with the remediation of the diamond at Western Middle School.

Rendering without access road shows new rink on the existing site. It would be 6 ft lower and therefore level with Sue Merz Way and the field. It would also be set back from the road to create an entry plaza, which would also serve as the curb side pick up and drop off. The parking lot is reconfigured to meet new P&Z regs for parking. It’s also pulled back from the veterans memorial grove (top left).

Keeping the ice rink in its current location would mean a gap of 28‐34 months between demolition of existing rink and completion of new one.

During public comment, Rink User Committee chair Bill Drake said to prevent lost ice time, a second rink should be up and running before the existing rink is demolished.

He also said he hoped the P&Z commission would approve a new access road and ball field improvements as well, though Ms Alban said that was not the purview of P&Z, but rather the BET and RTM.

As for the access road, he said using Sherman Avenue was no longer ‘appropriate’ for a town facility.

During public comment, Mark Fichtel of Byram said blasting to remove six feet of rock to lower the new building might damage neighboring buildings.

He also reminded the commission that the housing authority has plans to construct a large building, Vinci Gardens, adjacent to the park that will also disrupt the neighborhood.

David Wold, a member of the Byram Veterans, asked whether an access road would be illuminated. The drawings show no lights.

Wold said the proposed access road was very close to the veterans memorial grove.

He also asked if reconfiguring the parking lot would mean the mature Maple tree would be cut down.

He also asked about the recommendation to make Sue Merz Way one-way access to the park. He asked if it made sense for residents in the area of Sherman, Byram Rd, North Water Street and Smith Street to have to drive all the way around via Western Jr Hwy and Rte 1 to get home.

Mr. Monelli said the reason for the one-way at Sue Merz was so people leaving the rink in the winter wouldn’t drive down the hill on Sherman Ave.

Don Sylvester said Strazza Field had historically been considered the best Jr Babe Ruth field in town, and had never been a Sr Babe Ruth field.

“The only reason this field is being turned is because they have to shoehorn this road in,” he said. “They’re putting home plate in the most remote part of the field. There’s nowhere to watch this game from. They have a fence around the field. If you are going to watch the game you have to watch it at ground level from the outfield. It’s ridiculous.”

“There are many flaws in this,” he said.

Tom Waurishuk said participation in baseball had declined, and focus should remain on the rink, not an access road and new ball field.

“I can’t believe in this town – people spoke about roads and ball fields, but we’re building a hockey rink. I’m not worried about the ball field. There’s plenty of ball fields in Greenwich. We know that hardball has dropped tremendously,” he said. “When we grew up in this town, there were 14 or 15 Junior Babe Ruth teams and 10 to 12 Senior Babe Ruth teams. Now we’re down to 2 or 3 Junior and 1 Senior Babe Ruth. Everyone is muddying the waters with baseball and the roadway.”

Ramya Hopley asked about bleachers on the new field if whether were plans for artificial turf on the new ball field.

JoAnn Messina, director of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy asked how many trees, if any, would be removed to make way for the access road and to rotate the field, their size and the plan to replace them.

Monelli said instead of a food concession, there would be food trucks. He noted that saves the town space and money because vendors take all responsibility for maintaining equipment.

“It’s going to be a definite reduction in cost of operation for the town. We understand these food trucks have generators and water connections,” Monelli said, adding that the town offers food trucks an electrical connection to the building. “They pay us for electricity, so it’s no cost to the town.”

Alban asked Parks & Rec director Siciliano about whether baseball fields were needed in town.

“Baseball fields are needed in town, “Siciliano said. “We are definitely shy a bunch of hours for small triangles, large triangles, large diamonds. We only have five large diamonds, including Strazza.”

“The issue is that the 300 foot baseline on the right field and left field line will give us some opportunity to play JV ball and summer league ball there. The field orientation is absolutely the right orientation for the field.”

Siciliano said it would be possible to include some bleacher seating for spectators at an improved field. He said that issue would be addressed when they return to P&Z.

See also:

New Hamill Rink to Be Rebuilt on Existing Footprint at Morlot Park in Byram Feb 3, 2022

P&Z Watch: Hamill Rink Plan “An Enormous Amount of Site Disturbance” Dec 8, 2021

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

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