Dorothy Hamill Rink Replacement Project Takes Important Step Forward

GREENWICH, CT — The Dorothy Hamill Rink replacement project took an important step forward this week with the Board of Selectmen recommending proposed plans to the Planning & Zoning Commission for Municipal Improvement (MI) status.

The Greenwich Department of Public Works brought the project forward last year to P&Z, but officials decided to pursue MI status first, a vital step to secure appropriations.

P&Z will now examine the project in detail, try to work out previous concerns, and vote on granting MI status.

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Located at 1 Sue Merz Way in Byram, the current rink was built in 1972 essentially as a slab of ice. It was then built up in a piecemeal fashion which has led to disrepair over the years to the point that it needs to be replaced.

Luigi Romano, Greenwich’s director of building construction, maintenance and facilities, first appeared before the Board of Selectmen two weeks ago to present the project and the request for MI status to P&Z. He came back on Feb. 20 for a second read.

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According to the current plan, a new and modern 40,660 square-foot ice rink would be built north of the current facility within Eugene Morlot Memorial Park, where the current baseball field is (Strazza Field).

There would be a regulation-sized ice surface, locker rooms, elevated seating, and lounge areas, among other amenities, like the ability for solar power and improved energy efficiency.

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The old rink would be demolished, and the baseball field would be relocated to the south in a new orientation, Romano said, noting the addition of dugouts and bleachers.

An accessible walking path would be constructed around the new rink and baseball field, connecting everything to enhance pedestrian traffic, Romano said.

Twenty-two trees could be removed to make room for the ballfield, but 47 are to be planted.

First Selectman Fred Camillo said the plan for Eugene Morlot Memorial Park has been to enhance it, and he believes the rink replacement project does that.

“Many people would go to baseball games or hockey games and not know it was even there,” Camillo said, adding that there’s a desire to add signage to the park to pay tribute and denote the area where memorial trees were planted in honor of residents who served in World War II.

Several years of planning, which included feedback from the community and a townwide survey, went into the creation of the current proposal, Romano noted.

Two weeks ago, Bill Drake, chair of the Rink User Committee for Design & Planning, said a town-wide survey found 2,189 respondents who agreed with the overall plan.

The selectmen expressed support in moving the project forward to P&Z.

“Our hockey teams deserve better, our skaters and residents deserve better,” Camillo said.

Sarah Gleeson, a longtime user of the rink and a figure skating coach, agreed with Camillo and urged the selectmen to pass the project along.

“We have five Olympians attached to the building, and skaters deserve better than what we have,” she said.

Another resident, Lucy Von Brachel, said she’d like to see the project go forward, but had some concerns.

“I continue to have reservations about how this has been planned and that it’s moving forward without complete buy-in from the community, from the RTM and BET,” she said. “I don’t want to see any more time wasted, and I do think there are some compromises that do need to be considered and we still do not really have a concept of what the cost is and how we’re prioritizing it with other projects.”

Camillo said he has spoken to some BET and RTM members, and “there seems to be a lot of support to get this going.”

As for the cost, no money is included in Camillo’s proposed 2024-2025 budget, but there is $980,000 slated for fiscal year 2026 for design and planning, and $23 million is forecast for fiscal year 2027 for construction.

Romano said the price tag for construction was $17 million a few years ago, but costs have escalated.

“We’re in the low 20s (millions) now, and we’ll certainly have more clarity and refined cost numbers as we go through this P&Z process,” he said.

Camillo, a big proponent of public/private partnerships, said the town has “an anchor donor ready to go” to help with funding, but there still needs to be approval from P&Z.

The new rink would still be referred to as the Dorothy Hamill Rink, an homage to Hamill who is from Greenwich and won Olympic gold, but the building would be renamed.

An example Camillo has given is where Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles play: Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Greenwich Parks & Recreation Director Joe Siciliano said the addition of solar capability and the modernization of refrigeration equipment and compressor systems “will lead to some significant cost savings for the town.”

Camillo has spoken in the past about skating at the rink as a kid, and his desire to see a new rink for residents to enjoy. He called the current facility “the worst rink in Fairfield County.”

“We have this once-in-a-lifetime shot to get this right. This certainly is the first step of that,” he said of moving the project on to P&Z.

More information on the project can be found here.

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