RUNNING OUT OF TIME: Wilmington Youth Hockey & WHS Told Ice Time Will Continue To Diminish At Ristuccia, Possibly None In 2021

WILMINGTON, MA — There is new urgency to build an Ice Rink in Wilmington.

Town Manager Jeff Hull and Ice Rink & Recreation Facility Committee Chair Mark DiGiovanni recently met with Richard Gallant, owner of Ristuccia Arena.

At that October meeting, according to DiGiovanni, Gallant notified the town that Wilmington’s hockey programs would see “diminished” ice time during the 2020 season and likely no ice time at all during the 2021 season.

Gallant, however, did indicate that he would be willing and interested in working with the Town to potentially build another sheet of ice at the Ristuccia location and, upon doing so, enter into an agreement with the Town and the Wilmington Youth Hockey organization in which ice time for the various programs would be accessible.

Members of the Ice Rink & Recreational Facility Committee, however, are cool to the idea, noting it would be difficult to enforce such a contract if Gallant decided not to honor it, pointing to the agreement the town had with the rink’s previous owner.

While keeping its options open, the Committee is primarily focused on finding an adequate parcel of town-owned land to build a rink on and eventually bring in a private entity to run it.

The committee has examined over 15 different locations around Wilmington, weighing the pros and cons of each, while receiving topographical and utilities information from Town Engineer Paul Alunni.

At its most recent meeting this month, the Committee considered four “new” locations —  Town Hall site, Town Park site, a parcel on Grove Avenue near Silver Lake, and the Textron Tennis Court/Ballfields location.

At its next meeting, the Committee will narrow down the site options to what members feel are its “top” 3-4 locations. Simultaneously, Chair DiGiovanni will consult with the Town Manager’s Office and research the process of issuing an RFP or RFQ for the project. The Selectmen may have to sign off on the issuance.

“I’d like the Committee to continue to work and identify the best piece of land, but would also like to get an understanding if there’s actually interest from a group out there to come in and operate the rink,” said DiGiovanni.

“Let’s shift the onus onto the [rink management companies],” agreed committee member and Town Moderator Robert Peterson Jr.. “Let’s see if we can put an RFP or RFQ out and include the top locations we’ve discussed here. Put the onus on them to look at each site and decide what’s feasible. That places less of a financial burden on the town since we’re not the ones doing all the studies.”

Committee Vice Chair and Selectman Kevin Caira asked DiGiovanni to research the RFP documents that both Bedford and Wellesley recently used when building their rinks.

The Committee also talked finances, with DiGiovanni noting the Committee still doesn’t have a clear picture of how much a rink — with either one or two sheets of ice — would cost.

“Is it $4 million? Is it $ 7 million? If it’s $4 million, and we’ve allocated $2.25 million for Ristuccia, would another $1.75 million be out of the realm of possibility today? Would the public have that type of interest?,” asked DiGiovanni?

Committee member and Public Buildings Superintendent George Hooper stressed that a private entity could build the rink for much cheaper — 2 to 3 times so — due to the prevailing wage laws that municipalities must follow.

“The number we’d be looking at would be really, really high,” cautioned Peterson. “I think people might loose their mind and we wouldn’t last 5 minutes at a Town Meeting.”

“If we’re going to move forward, we’re going to need an appropriation of money, but I think we’re heading in the right track,” said Vice Chair Kevin Caira. “We should look at putting up a rink and seeing if there’s a private group that wants to run it. I think we have the formula. I think we’re a little trigger shy.”

“We need to do something sooner than later as we’re not going to have any ice time in two years,” stressed committee member Marianne Gallezzo. 

Committee member and WHS Interim Athletic Director Ed Harrison reminded his colleagues that, over time, the town could recoup money from the rink. He pointed to the success story out of Stoneham, where the rink is a moneymaker for the town and Stoneham programs are taken care of first.

Committee member and Recreation Director Karen Campbell wasn’t shy in voice her opinion that there were massive problems with each site that is under consideration. She specifically noted that some locations, such as the Town Park and the Town Recycling Center, would require ledge blasting, which would “add huge dollars to any project.”

DiGiovanni informed his members that a construction company that builds ice rinks recently contacted the town and would be willing to come in and speak to the Committee. DiGiovanni said the company, which he did not name, built the rink at St. Sebastian’s in Needham.

The Committee agreed to hear from company representatives at a future meeting, with the hope of getting a better idea about a project’s potential finances, including cost per square foot, operating costs, and determining the risks and rewards of building one sheet of ice vs. two sheets of ice.

The Ice Rink and Recreational Facility Committee is scheduled to next meet on Monday, February 3, 2020 at 7pm at Town Hall.

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