At the top of any list of desired amenities for Wilton residents is an in-town skating rink. Now, a new group is organizing to advocate for a temporary, seasonal skating rink that would be located at North Field on the Wilton High School campus.
Wilton resident Mark Mangino presented the proposal at Wednesday evening’s (Aug. 23) Parks and Recreation Commission meeting. Mangino is the Wilton High School boys hockey team coach who has also coached at Fairfield University and served on the board of the Connecticut Hockey Conference for many years.
The proposal listed a group called “Wilton Ice Pavillion” (WIP) that wants to lease North Field from the Town of Wilton from November to March and locate a full-size seasonal hockey and skating rink there.
Key to the proposal is that Mangino said the facility would be “fully funded” through money that WIP would raise, potentially in partnership with the Wilton Athletic and Recreational Foundation (WARF).
Mangino described two potential approaches: either temporarily install all elements at the location from November to March; or build a permanent structure housing locker rooms, office space and storage space that could be used by multiple WHS athletic teams and the marching band as well as for hockey, and set-up and take down only the ice rink each year.
The proposal is preliminary at this point, although Mangino said the target time for the first winter season would be November 2024. For anything to be approved a more detailed plan would have to work its way through other town approvals — Planning and Zoning Commission, Environmental Affairs Commission, and the Board of Selectmen amongst them.
Mangino said that everything would be fully funded by WIP, from the installation of the cooling mechanism and construction of the permanent building to annual upkeep and any rink set-up/take-down costs as well as equipment storage for the rink parts during the off-season months.
What’s more, the group would also pay for additional lighting, field restoration each spring, and any other “costs associated with ownership and operation of the Rink in perpetuity.”
When asked about whether there would be damage to the grass with the installation of the rink each year, Mangino said that in his experience of putting in a personal seasonal rink in his own backyard, the grass is actually insulated by the mechanics of the chilling system underneath the rink. But, he added, even if there was any damage, restoration and repair needed for the field each spring would be covered by WIP funding as well.
Estimates for first year costs to build and operate a rink would be just north of $4 million, Mangino said, and $1 million over the following four years.
The group would also hire and oversee an experienced “third party” to run the rink’s operations, including scheduling for the use of the ice. It would also open the rink to the WHS hockey teams at no additional cost.
Revenues would come from facility usage by youth and club hockey organizations, adult league members, lessons, public skate admission, and birthday party/event rentals as well as through continued fundraising.
Commission member Alix Korpan acknowledged that ongoing broader support may come from other Wilton athletic organizations, including WARF, and field hockey, soccer, lacrosse organizations and more that use Lilly Field and who would benefit from the permanent locker rooms and on-site bathrooms. There would also be opportunities for all organizations to sell food concessions.
Ice Rink Usage
The facility would be a larger, hockey-sized rink rather than a smaller, ice skating rink, which would allow for more types of usage. Mangino said that in putting the proposal together, he had put together preliminary schedules in order to project possible usage and revenues.
Acknowledging the facility could not be used during the weekday hours because it’s on school property (unless approved by the Board of Education), usage would be limited to before and after school.
But those times could be used for private lessons or private skating, house junior and adult leagues, travel club leagues, Parks and recreation programs, birthday parties, and public skate time. Mangino even added a potential broomball and curling option to the schedule.
Commission chair John Macken reiterated that town officials would want any amenity to serve as many residents as possible.
“As the Parks and Rec Commission, we are really trying to focus as much as we can on residents who are everywhere from one year old to 100 years old. And if there’s an amenity that we’re putting in town, obviously there are some great benefits it sounds like to the high school and other parts of the community. To the extent that we can focus on public use of it so that seniors and others could take advantage should they should they choose to, I just ask that you keep that in mind,” Macken said.
Parks and Recreation Department Director Steve Pierce brought up the location of the rink and the larger field with a concern about potential flooding. He said that with prior efforts to find a location for a possible third turf field, North Field was eliminated from consideration because of its location in a FEMA flood plain.
He said a site study would have to be part of any formal presentation to the town.
“Nobody wants to put something out there and then have water coming up off the Goetjen Brook, which you’re typically not going to get in the winter but it could happen so you don’t want to see that,” Pierce said.
Mangino added that he has consulted with a former WHS student who now works with the commercial builder Caldwell & Walsh, which builds educational athletic facilities on the spec plans.
Pierce suggested that some of the Parks and Rec Commission members work with Mangino as a subcommittee to flesh out the proposal further.
“Talk to the town administrator … and make sure that the town is early on interested in pursuing this project. Then flesh out some of the things that we’ve talked about tonight, so everybody’s on the same page — costs associated with it, soft costs, that sort of thing, who’s paying for what, make sure everything’s buttoned down — so [Mangino] could come back to the commission and say, ‘Here’s the final plan,’ and then move that forward as expeditiously as possible to the Board of Selectmen for consideration,” Pierce said.
He added some advice, including trying to get a feel for how the town residents would feel about the proposal and getting all questions answered and details set.
“Do it right. Don’t rush it, and get it done the first time,” Pierce said.
Macken said that based on what the subcommittee would bring back to the Commission in September or October, he could see presenting something more formal to the BOS in November.