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Town-Owned Rink Boasts 'Best Ice Around'

Greenwich's Dorothy Hamill rink: quaint, charming and awaiting modernization.


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.

Johnny Walker January 22, 2013 at 11:23 AM
Privately funded ice rinks that make money for their owners should be sufficient. Governments shouldn't be involved with projects that the private sector can do more efficiently. Just the fact that this rink is "piecemeal" illustrates the inefficiency inherent with government owned businesses like this. The history of the place is nice and many people have memories there but that's not enough to keep it funded with taxpayer money. My opinion, sell it to a private company let them do improvements. Governments should protect people, put out fires and educate children.
PTCHFAN January 22, 2013 at 01:35 PM
Leslie, you pose an interesting question. From a purely selfish, "Greenwich Pride" perspective, I do think that The Dorothy Hamil rink renovation should be a priority providing the rink can be made an NHL size rink. There is no such thing as "too much ice". IMHO, Every single hour of ice will sell or be utilized by town programs, especially if the rink is enlarged and the entire facility is modernized. It could become another Greenwich jewel. It is a right of passage for "middle school Tweens" to go to "the rink" to meet their friends and have a wholesome place to go on the weekends. It's a fabulous place for young residents to learn to skate and practice their craft as they advance their skills. as a member of the Windy Hill Skating Club. While the other rinks (Chelsea Piers Rye Brook etc.) will also sell out their ice, remodeling The Greenwich Town Rink, as a part of the Greewnwich Parks and Rec department - would be another wonderful perk for our lovely town and is long overdue.
Peter F. Alexander January 22, 2013 at 01:42 PM
I have a plan that would place swimming pool next to rink, share energy and reduce the annual costs. Give the students at Western long neglected attention. Pool would have retractable roof for year 'round use......everyone would win... Peter F. Alexander Landscape Architect Planner
Vicki Camacho - Public Access Producer January 22, 2013 at 02:00 PM
The skating rink is used all year round the swimming pool at Byram Park is used for about 3 months. I think $5 million to fix up the ice rink should be a priority in the consolidated capital budget.
Leslie Yager January 22, 2013 at 03:26 PM
Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I skated at Dorothy Hamill as a teen and taught my daughter to skate there too. I also used to live nearby on that hill, and it sure was WINDY!
Leslie Yager January 22, 2013 at 03:57 PM
Peter, thanks for uploading your plan.
Tony January 22, 2013 at 05:12 PM
I understand your point, but I'm not sure I agree.... You say the Ice rink is piecemeal because it is smaller than Olympic size. But so are the town's basketball courts. Should we outsource Eastern and Western Grw Civic centers and the High School because they depend on taxpayer money to update and maintain? And on that topic one can, using your argument, make the case that the entire school system should be privatized. Why have a govt funded school when the private sector is as efficient or even more so? Perhaps the answer is 'enrichment.' Having the Civic centers, parks, school gyms and PE programs enrich our citizens, they make the town a better place to live, bringing in more residents who are willing to pay more to live here - and more businesses to locate here (which means more tax $$). Investing in the community by maintaining town water resources for boaters and bathers, a terrific library, a updated skating rink, nicely resourced civic centers and well maintained parks keep the town a magnet for investment, teach our kids to value the hard work it takes to live here and besides, it gives them something to do outside of playing video games :)
CTNico January 22, 2013 at 06:31 PM
Johnny, I agree that private resources might obviate the need for renovation, if Rye Brook goes through, for practical purposes. I disagree with your reasoning. If educating children is a valid use of government then why isn't teaching them how to swim or skate? Shouldn't those skills be part of every child's education? If private/non-profit alternatives don't exist that satisfy the need then shouldn't government provide them? Obviously, we used to think so, because these things exist. And athletic facilities, parks and fields are not particularly expensive things to provide a citizenry, especially if they can support their own maintenance. I think this ideological world view that says that governments are always inherently inefficient and should be limited at all costs may well be true on the federal level, but I really don't know if it is true locally, especially in Greenwich. Graft and corruption don't seem to be a problem here. My impression has been that Greenwich has had a history of spending on public services effectively, tastefully, and efficiently while keeping taxes low, making it one of the most desirable places to live in the country. This, in turn, increases the value of my real estate. Essentially, I consider my local taxes well spent.
Johnny Walker January 22, 2013 at 08:32 PM
The town would benefit by leasing the land to a private company and collecting lease payments. It could continue on as an ice rink- only in private hands. People would have the choice to use it or the two others in the area. Funding a nonessential service such as an ice rink is in my opinion not wise. Schools are essential, police and fire essential. Other failures of government owned recreation facilities include Rye Playland and Wouman rink in NYC. Government should not be in businesses that the private sector can perform more cost effectively. If this was not a drain on expenses and the town budget why is it that the town can't seem to muster the money for improvements? A legacy is not reason enough to keep something like this on the backs of Greenwich taxpayers. Memories can be had at Chelsea Piers or the new Rye Rink. Preserving memories is not a financially responsible idea in these times.
Chris Baring January 22, 2013 at 08:47 PM
Lets get this out of government hands and into private sector. Will be run better and at a profit.
Margaret Callahan January 22, 2013 at 11:57 PM
Johnny Walker and Chris Baring might have a good point...
Johnny Walker January 22, 2013 at 11:57 PM
I agree 100%. Turn an expense into a money maker for the town. There is no reason I can think of for the town to be in the ice skating business. Government does nothing efficiently or profitable. Government whether local, state or federal is inherently inefficient and wasteful. There are no exceptions. For people to make the argument that the town of Greenwich, should own and operate a third ice rink in a 10 mile radius is ludicrous. Competition and free enterprise are absent in government owned and operated businesses and therefore can never be viewed as a viable solution. The list is long- Wolman Ring ( Before Donald Trump bought it), Conrail, Amtrak, US Postal service, Rye Playland, , etc etc. Bureacrats know nothing about running a business and do not have to return a profit and are not held accountable. Greenwich should get out of the ice skating business.
Johnny Walker January 23, 2013 at 12:13 AM
CTNico- the local government should teach ice skating? I don't think so. I was never taught ice skating, or swimming for that matter. Nor was I taught how to ride a horse or fish in school. Why would anyone believe that an education should include any of these non essential activities? With almost 13% of students dropping out of high school before graduation my priority would be on maybe trying to improve that number and focus less on ridulous non essential activities like teaching kids to ice skate. As far as helping one's career, assisting in getting into a great university and then being a productive contributing member of society the need for ice skating rates very low. I want the government in Greenwich to protect me and my family from crime, put out fires, fix the roads, get rid of my family's effluence and provide a great education for my kids. Outside of that, the private sector-free enterprise- can take care of pretty much everyone else I need. Get Greenwich out of the Ice Skating Business.
Suzze January 23, 2013 at 12:52 AM
Hmm... This thread has turned awfully partisan. Really??
Jane January 23, 2013 at 02:09 AM
I suppose then, according to "Johnny Walker" we should close all the parks, the pool, tennis courts, and stop all football, soccer, cheerleading etc. I'm gonna just guess here, Johnny you don't skate or have children in this town. Not everything has to be a profitable business.I teach at Hamill Rink and I can tell you firsthand our rink is amazing and it enriches the lives of many, many residents, mine included. Have you seen the prices at some of these private new rinks??!! They are outrageous!!!! As a Greenwich tax-payer myself, I am more than happy having the rink.I would love to see it renovated and extended to an all year rink, a feeling that is shared by many people that go to the rink.I know because I'm frequently asked why we aren't open all year. I don't think we will suffer financially here in Greenwich funding a project that will bring such joy to all who use it. If you go there on the weekends you will see that alot of people enjoying the rink. If you saw the look on a child's face when they finally "get it" or they get that first goal, that is priceless!!!!! Surely something we in Greenwich can afford. I think the return on our investment will be well worth it. Maybe not the biggest money maker, but for sure huge in enriching our lives and our children's lives. Sometimes life is about more than just making money.
Johnny Walker January 23, 2013 at 05:36 AM
Yes I live and have children in Greemwich and pay Genwich taxes. As far as the low price to skate at the rink that is because it is not for profit and is priced lower than what it costs to keep the place open-a common attribute of government run businesses. As far as the beautiful faces and great memories I do appreciate what you are saying but wold those faces be any less captivating or that goal any less important if they were experienced at a private for profit ice rink like Chelsea Piers or the new Rye Brook rink? I would doubt that the current Dorothy Hamil rink meets current safety, zoning or building codes. An ironic fact seeing that the town of Greenwich is so zealous with enforcing their zoning laws. A town run business in a building that does not adhere to current safety and zoning laws, you,wouldn't see that happen with a modern newly built private rink. I can understand your position but unfortunately I am a firm supporter of having government stop interfering with free enterprise. I understand money isn't everything in life, but I do realize its extremely important. I bet if we looked in to how much this rink has made or cost over the last 30 years we'd find it's been a massive loser of taxpayers money. I'd also like to see attendance numbers how many Greenwich residents go there per year, how many Stamford resident how many port Chester people. My guess it would be like island beach, for a $3.00 Ferry ride anyone can be a Greenwich resident for the day.
Tony January 23, 2013 at 01:28 PM
When I look at my choices for settling down and raising a family, I look at the whole town; schools, beach, library, churches, places to gather like the islands and civic centers, proximity to shopping, transportation, etc. Also, I'll be making a huge investment for my house, so I'm interested in the value of the property and the taxes. The town needs to balance all these priorities: provide an environment that gives the most value to the townspeople while keeping the taxes as low as possible. It's been my experience for the 20 years that I've been here with my family - and as evidenced by our relatively stable home prices and low taxes, that our Town has "won" many more times than they've 'lost.' Keep in mind that the (only) priority for a business is to make a profit. Charge as much as you can for as long as you can. No real 'social responsibility.' However, if you consider the alternative of stripping down all the Town's enhancements and wait for private enterprise to offer these services, with an eye toward reducing expenses, you need to be careful. You might wind up with a generic, "blah" Town that doesn't attract mid sized businesses and too many higher value homes. Over time, the schools deteriorate, the taxes go up and the home values stagnate. You have the choice to live in a town that doesn't have our 'extras.' You can move to....Port Chester. We're going to miss ya!
Jane January 23, 2013 at 04:35 PM
Lol Tony, well put!!!!! I've lived here my whole life (49 years) and when I was young it was roller skating on Tuesday nights. My friends and I still talk about those wonderful days. I work Friday night (tween) skate and it reminds me of those days. I think Johnny you should come to our Saturday or Sunday (2-4) public session and see for yourself just how much our town loves the rink. We are PACKED!!!!!! We desperately need a renovation, it's over-due. I hope the rink lasts long enough to actually make the budget because if it doesn't we may lose a season or two playing catch up. When we close in March, the skaters are sad to see it close for the summer. I hear over and over "I wish you guys would stay open all year." "Why don't you?" We all feel the same. Obviously skating isn't your thing Johnny and big private business is. I was driving today and I wondered what you thought of our beautiful gardens in town that are planted, dug up and planted again. They don't bring one penny of revenue to our town, or do they? I love Tony's letter, it was perfect!! :O)
Steve Dawson January 24, 2013 at 01:04 AM
If everything other than fire and police was left to the private sector, then Greenwich would become one large theme park for hedge funds and trust fund babies. Mr. Johnny Walker is one of the cynics Oscar Wilde had in mind when he said that such a person knows the price of everything and the value of nothing....

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