Four draft rink designs unveiled at public feedback meeting

Photo: Steel beams from the current rink that could be used in a new rink.

After being selected as the architect to design the city’s new rink, Ted Galante’s first official task by the rink’s design committee was to essentially take a blank sheet of paper and start sketching.

And on Thursday April 7, the Cambridge-based architect who led the refurbishment of Belmont Police Headquarters and built the DPW Building presented four variations of a new installation to solicit feedback from residents after a few weeks in the conception phase.

“We don’t have all the answers yet,” said Mark Haley, chairman of the preliminary rink design committee that organized the meeting. “We’re just beginning our journey on this design and that’s why we’re reaching out to the public for some of their input.”

For Amy Tannenbaum, resident of Goden Street, it is incumbent on both the committee and the architect to engage in a thorough process, because “we are only going to do it once…so let’s do it properly”.

What was presented on Thursday were first impressions, sketches of possible structures with a new one-sheet ice rink on the program. Galante said these are “not final plans,” but rather the first iteration of the ice sheet’s relationship to the locations and programs associated with the building.

“It’s the right time to do this kind of project given the age of the building.” Galante said of the structure, built as an outdoor ice rink in 1969 and closed in 1971. “It’s well past its useful life and is falling apart in so many, many ways,” he said, pointing out the random way which it has been built and expanded over the years and currently “in violation of so many building codes” as well as the American with Disability Act.

“It’s a dangerous building as it currently exists,” Galante said.

In any new design, the building must incorporate an expanded program to accommodate its new role: large three-season and hockey-specific locker rooms, lobby, spectator seating, offices, skate rentals ice cream and many more.

The new rink – which requires a lot of energy to create ice and maintain operations – will be designed to “reduce its carbon footprint” and aims to be carbon neutral by using geothermal heating/cooling and installation of photovoltaic panels on the roof or on south-facing facades.

“I think there will be a lot of people in town to make this building operationally net zero energy,” said School Street resident Brian Isler. “Rather than contributing to the global climate problem by spitting out carbon, let’s contribute to the solution and most likely save a ton of money,” because rinks use a large amount of electricity, he said.

The structure that will house the high school’s boys and girls varsity and junior teams will be the highlight of the area known as Harris Field, which is part of the new Belmont Middle and High School campus. An important aspect of any design is the requirement to install three pitches and a 90-space car park – a requirement of the planning committee when it approved the entire middle and high school project – inside the envelope terrestrial area, which Galante will incorporate into its next design iterations.

Two of Galante’s design projects stood out, the first was the rehabilitation of the current ice rink which was not included in the renovation of “The Skip” rather than a nearly complete rehabilitation of the structure. Galante plans to keep the large steel bends and because they represent “embodied energy”. But after that, everything else disappears: the old surface where the ice sits will be dug out, the ice-making infrastructure – refrigeration pipe grids, chiller and pumps – pier, the brick and steel walls corroded blown away, leaking roof dismantled, and all other interior structures of Zamboni offices, locker rooms, bathrooms, concessions and storage space will be removed. From then on, a new structure will be built on a larger footprint than the current rink due to the expanded lineup.

“So this is a concept, a dream, a possible scenario,” Galante said.

The second design that caught the eye of many would place the rink next to Concord Avenue with underground parking for 90 vehicles and locker rooms for fall and spring sports, a rink just above the level of the street with rooftop tennis courts. It is one of two designs that would allow the current rink to be operational while a new one is built.

Such a design would provide more space for courts by eliminating the need for parking, and provide the high school tennis program with all five courts on West Campus.

“The open space in this area is so limited,” said Heather Barr of School Street, noting the benefit this plan would have of being flexible where along Concord Avenue it might be located.

Other designs include one preferred by the school board and district that is perpendicular to the current rink adjacent to Harris Field and flush with commuter railroad tracks. This would allow the fall and spring teams easy access to the locker rooms and would move the rink and associated parking lot away from Concord Avenue, which is favored by residents of surrounding neighborhoods. It would also have space for a concession stand which is currently adjacent to the White Field House.

Skating rink adjacent to commuter train tracks.

Like the renovation concept, the Perpendicular option would require the hockey program to seek a new “home” for two years as the structure is built.

The final design would place the rink behind the Mobil gas station.

“These [designs] are concepts,” Galante said at the end of his 15-minute presentation. “These are ideas. They are ways of thinking about how we might think about…creating[ing] something that’s more energy independent and doesn’t violate so many codes and is safe and future-proof for the next 50 years.

What each of Galante’s initial designs does not include is a price tag. And the cost of some features — underground parking, rooftop tennis courts, ADA-compliant elevators — could quickly “x” out any specific design or feature.

During public comment, many tennis fans raised their voices in favor of the inclusion of five courts on the roof of the building that Galante presented in the four scenarios or on the ground. Others started non-hockey related skating – “Don’t forget our figure skaters,” said Anne Marie Mahoney of Goden Street as she and her daughters learned the sport at the Skip – with skate rentals and changing rooms for ice skaters, using the playing space for other sports if the building is not a 12-month ice facility, and the need for solar panels and other carbon-free energy.

Haley previously said the committee will present two designs to the select committee in the coming weeks.

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