Dorothy Hamill needs a makeover. The rink, that is.
Having evolved into its present state piecemeal, Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink came to life in 1971 as a slab of ice encircled by a chain link fence. Established on a field by the former Byram School, the rink was an instant hit.
A few years later, bleachers were added and a roof erected—like a giant carport.
Over the years, walls were added and bleachers installed. A warming hut was built to house the Zamboni. Before locker rooms were added in late 90s, patrons changed inside tents. Today, there is a row of heated rooms, including a rentable party room, an officials room, a rentals booth, and an office with a cashier's window. To create those spaces, the bleachers were lifted and affixed permanently atop the rooms.
Repository of memories and traditions
Rink staff have accumulated a trove of stories and souvenirs over the years. A fine example of taxidermy known as "Rink Mink" presides over staff from atop the public address system. Beyond the walls of the office, canned music and the sounds of blades scraping ice are punctuated by hoots and squeals at Santa's annual skate-through in December.
The post-holiday season features the annual Town Ice Skating Competition, now in its 36th year. Scheduled for February 24th, over 100 young figure skaters are expected to participate in what is for many their first competition.
The competition is sponsored and cohosted by the Windy Hill Skating Club. According to Park & Rec director Joseph Siciliano, back in the 70s after much discussion over where to locate the rink, townspeople exclaimed, "They put the rink up on the windy hill!" which explains the unique club name.
And there are other stories. There was the newly engaged couple who came to the rink to celebrate. "She lost the ring on the ice," recalled 18-year rink manager Rich Ernye. "We scoured the place. At the end of ice season we even went through the snow pile with a metal detector. Never found it."
"But, oh, the ice," exclaimed Ernye. "The kids grow up learning to skate here, then skate in college maybe. They come back and say this is the best ice around."
"Not too hard. Not too soft," said Jason Vien, longtime skating guard and one of five Zamboni operators.
Lore and loyalties aside, the rink is in need of modernization
The rink has no insulation. Nor is there heat or air conditioning. Each spring the ice is melted and rolls of green turf are unfurled, extending the rink's use through the summer months. But as the temperature soars outside, so it does inside.
Ernye explained that since 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.
"I've seen the goal frame melt into the ice," added Vien.
There are other drawbacks beyond lack of climate control. There are no showers in the changing rooms. The rink is 15' short of standard NHL length. The piping under the ice is original. Asked what would happen in the event of a leak, Ernye explained that repairs would involve shutting down the rink and melting the ice.
Capital improvement projects jockey for priority
The project to significantly upgrade the rink has been pushed back more than once. The rink building renovation has jockeyed for priority against the Greenwich High School MISA project; the rink project was bumped. More recently the rink renovation vied for priority with the central fire station project, the Byram Park swimming pool project, and the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center rehabilitation.
According to Siciliano, the renovation funds come from the DPW capital budget, not the Parks and Recreation budget. "The projected years that the work would take place are 2015-2016 with $500,000 estimated for the permitting process, design work and some staging. Then there is a projected cost of $4.5 million for a building renovation in 2016-2017."
"From a manager's point of view, it's frustrating," said Ernye. "We were at the top of the docket, then MISA project bumped this."
And so the wait for modernization continues.
Year-Round Hive of Activity
The rink is home to a dizzying array of activities, including ice hockey, league play, figure skating, and public skating. The rink accommodates Greenwich High School Hockey teams, Greenwich Blues Travel Hockey, Windy Hill Skating Club, public sessions, group lessons, hockey clinics, youth hockey leagues, not to mention birthday parties and PTA fundraisers. And that's just during the ice months.
As the rink languishes on the list of capital projects, it begs the question: Will the dual NHL-size rinks at Stamford's Chelsea Piers lure away Greenwich skaters? If the proposed four-rink ice complex in Rye Brook on the state line goes forward, will that draw off Greenwich skaters?
Dorothy Hammill Rink is located at 14 Sherman Ave., in Greenwich. Tel. (203) 531-8560
Do you think a building renovation to the Dorothy Hamill ice rink estimated to cost $5 million should be a priority in the consolidated capital budget? Let us know in the comments section.