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City Council: scale back ice rink project

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To keep costs down, City Council members informally agreed Monday night to scale back the planned renovation and expansion of the Watertown Municipal Arena.

The Watertown City Council met with representatives from Stantec Consulting Services of Rochester to discuss the long-awaited project to redo the ice arena at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.

Last month, the council balked at a 116-page preliminary design report that proposed three options with costs ranging from $9.7 million to $11.1 million, depending on amenities and space configuration. Several years ago, the renovations were projected to cost about $3.6 million.

Council members have said for years that an upgrade of the 47,000-square-foot arena is needed, especially since it has a persistently leaky roof.

During the 90-minute presentation Monday, Stantec consultants told council members that the project could be completed in three phases, with the first two costing about $8.8 million.

Councilman Joseph M. Butler said that figure is too high and asked the consultants how they could reduce the project’s cost.

“Everyone wants a great Christmas present, but not everyone is going to get what you want,” he said, adding that the consultants should focus on such items as more locker rooms and better restrooms.

Council members generally agreed that a rear building addition, where a staff break room, a concert hospitality room, training space and showers were proposed, should be eliminated from the plans. They also told the consultants to dispense with an aerobics room, a video arcade and a weight room.

However, the Stantec consultants persuaded council members to proceed with plans for a second floor to accommodate bleachers with an entrance from above, rather than at rink level. That would require a $60,000 elevator for handicapped access. The bleachers would seat about 1,500 fans.

The 40-year-old ice rink’s roof, concrete floor and refrigeration system also would be replaced.

“This is a lot to ingest,” Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns said, urging Parks and Recreation Department staff to report back to the council on what they think should be included in the project.

By having the public enter from above, the design would create separate entrances for hockey teams and fans. Plans also call for relocating the teams’ boxes, penalty box and scorer’s area to the other side of the bleachers.

Stantec engineer James Maland said having fans and teams use the same entrance “poses a public risk.”

The ice arena is the home to the Watertown Privateers of the Federal Hockey League, numerous Parks and Recreation Department programs, and high school and youth hockey games.

On Jan. 1, the opposing coach in the Privateers’ game was arrested after the game, accused of pushing a woman and her 7-year-old daughter. The Danbury Whalers’ head coach, Philip P. Esposito Jr., 43, of East Haven, Conn., was arrested by city police. According to police, he pushed Jennifer L. Bellis, of 1126 Holcomb St., and her daughter, causing the girl to fall to the ground. He was charged with two counts of second-degree harassment and one count of endangering the welfare of a child.

Council members did not mention the incident during Monday night’s discussion.

At the end of the discussion, council members instructed Parks Department staff to put together a report that would be ready for a special work session slated for Jan. 27. That would allow the consultants to proceed with their design work without any delay, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said.

“I don’t want to drag this out,” he said.

Stantec is being paid $99,700 to complete the project’s preliminary design work.

Further design work would be completed by March, and the project would go out to bid early next winter, with construction starting during the spring of 2015 and being completed the following fall, before the hockey season.

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