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Watertown City Council nixes second ice sheet but agrees to rink upgrades

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The City Council informally agreed on Monday night to spend $3.3 million on a major upgrade at the nearly 40-year-old Watertown Municipal Arena at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.

But the Parks and Recreation Department’s proposed five-year capital project plan will not include appropriating an additional $4 million to build a second sheet of ice. Only Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith, who is involved in a local youth hockey organization, supported the ice rink expansion.

In supporting just the renovations, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said it was best to proceed with plans that council members already “had common ground on.”

“I just don’t think this body is willing to do the other things,” the mayor told Parks and Recreation Superintendent Erin E. Gardner, who proposed the plans as separate options.

Under the $3.3 million upgrade, the city would spend $1.09 million next year on fixing locker rooms, replacing the bleachers, building a pole barn for equipment storage and completing roof design work. The roof, the floor and the fire suppression system would be completed in 2014-15 at a cost of nearly $2 million. The remaining $220,000 in upgrades would be adding a Zamboni room and improving the lobby during the third year.

For several years, the ice rink’s roof has been plagued with leaks during heavy rainstorms. Two years ago, a consultant concluded that proceeding with additional repairs on the roof might be fruitless.

The second sheet of ice would have been completed during years four and five. It would have been used year-around, presumably by youth hockey, the Thousand Islands Privateers minor hockey team and adult hockey programs.

Mr. Smith contended that the city could proceed with the bidding process for the second sheet of ice and then not go forward with the project if its cost came in too high. He said that a need exists for the expansion because hockey groups go to Alexandria Bay and Syracuse for ice time during the spring and summer months.

For years, the city has talked about adding a second of sheet of ice but the project has never gotten off the ground. In a 2009 study, consultant Bernier, Carr & Associates initially failed to include in its final report — to the disappointment of Mr. Smith and Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr. — the feasibility of constructing an expansion to house a second sheet of ice.

A month later, the engineering firm came back with a cost of $5.8 million for a 37,000-square-foot expansion. The study, however, recommended $6 million in renovations.

On Monday night, Mr. Butler said he would have to see an analysis of how much revenue would be generated by the rink expansion before he would consider the project. Mrs. Gardner was unable to provide that information Monday night.

In a related matter, council members approved yet another new plan for the rink’s concession stand. Last week, the state Liquor Authority reversed its recent decision that a local catering company, Savory Beverage and Beyond, must sell both beer and food during the Privateers’ hockey games.

As council members agreed Monday night, Savory will continue to sell alcohol, while the city can operate the food concession stand for the remainder of the Federal Hockey League team’s season.

Council members also heard from a representative of Evergreen Partners, Ipswich, Mass., about a plan to purchase Maple Courts for $3.7 million and then spend nearly $10 million to completely renovate the apartment complex off Weldon Drive.

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