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Town rink on thin ice

The exterior of the ice rink on Varney Point in Gilford is in need of a paint job and other minor maintenance. Lauren Tiner. (click for larger version)
November 11, 2009
With the Laconia Ice Arena taking away local business and the town ice rink on Varney Point Road considered to be a bit outdated and in need of renovations, the rink may be open for its last season this year.

Town Administrator Scott Dunn said the issue arose when the Parks and Recreation Commission asked to reappoint ice rink personnel for this year, which led to discussion about whether the rink should even open.

Dunn, along with the commission, met with the State Department of Resources and Economic Development. The group concluded that the ice rink, built in 1996, does not receive the use it once did, said Dunn. However, the facility recently received a $96,800 conservation grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for its construction, and "disregarding obligations" could result in a town fine.

At the Board of Selectmen meeting last Wednesday night, Dunn told the board that he did not consider paying back the grant to be an option, although to receive the grant, the facility would have to be in use.

After speaking with Tom Francoeur, chair of the recreation board Dunn said that options include replacing the facility at another site in town, changing the use of the present site, or declaring that the facility is "obsolete." Dunn said this declaration would prove to be a bit of a project, but that the ice rink's recent lack of use and modern features could make the case.

He said maintenance is another issue and that repainting the facility alone would cost the town $60,000 to $70,000, a sum not in financial reach.

"It is hard to justify that kind of expenditure," said Dunn. "This year we ought to consider running the rink on a reduced schedule. We can submit something formally to the recreation department and decide on which path to follow."

Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation Herb Greene said he plans to maintain the rink for the next year.

"From my stand point, I want to make sure I am in compliance and recommend moving forward since we have the money," said Greene.

Greene addressed a few small maintenance tasks that he would like to complete before the ground freezes, in accordance with grant regulations.

Francoeur stood behind the town ice rink full force and said he found it to be irreplaceable in his eyes.

"The rink is a great historical asset. I want you to understand that it is still utilized, but not as much," said Francoeur. "I am afraid we will never replace it if we let it go. It is a gem to the town. I would hate to see it gone."

He suggested that the town could eventually use it for an indoor soccer facility, or for other recreational sporting activities, and that he would like to "revitalize" the facility with fundraisers. Francoeur said as long as the facility would be replaced with something "like in kind," that he wouldn't forego the facility altogether if it were no longer an ice rink.

Member of the Board of Selectmen John O'Brien asked Francoeur if the USDA was aware of the conditions after allowing them the grant, and Francoeur assured the board that they were informed of the situation.

O'Brien inquired on any structural problems the ice rink may have and Francoeur answered that lights and electrical functions would have to be looked into. Greene added that they were also waiting on a painting quote, but did not have a response at this time.

"We have had the same problems for years. We are still looking for answers to really revitalize (the rink) and make it modern again," said Francoeur who added that they would have done this work years ago, yet they did not have funding at the time.

He said there were no immediate concerns of safety with the facility, but that the ice on the rink depends on mother nature alone, and that no coolants are used to ensure the ice is sufficient for skating.

Chair of the Board of Selectmen Gus Benavides pointed out that this factor could be a problem since residents would only be able to use the rink when the winter weather produced such conditions.

Francoeur understood the board's concerns, yet pushed to have the ice rink in use for one more year, since it was in the best interest of the town in terms of the grant, and in terms of the "historic" facility. He said he hoped they could at least run the ice rink for one more year before making a hasty or wrong decision.

The Board of Selectmen agreed to open the town ice rink with reduced hours for the upcoming winter season, yet they will be searching for financially attainable replacements or alternative facility uses in the mean time.

The next Selectmen meeting will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 18 with a public hearing on the new draft policy for regulating commercial signs, and to further discuss recent "budget shortfalls" as a result of health insurance increases and Village Acre Water District complications.

Martin Lord and Osman
Salmon Press
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