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Hartford Selectboard Commits to Wendell A. Barwood Arena Ice Rink Maintenance

  • Nedra Dwinell helps Alana Blum on with her skates at the Wendell A. Barwood Arena in White River Junction, Vt., on March 1, 2018. The seventh-grade Hartford Middle School students were at the rink for their physical education class. Hartford's selectboard has approved spending funds to fix the Barwood arena's ice-making capabilities. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford Middle School seventh-graders Nicholas LaRose, left, and Finn Walther skate during their physical education class at the Wendell A. Barwood Arena in White River Junction, Vt. on March 1, 2018. Hartford's selectboard has approved spending funds to fix the Barwood arena's ice-making capabilities.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford Middle School seventh-graders Kaylee Scott pushes Deanna Lindberg across the ice during their physical education class at the Wendell A. Barwood Arena in White River Junction, Vt. on March 1, 2018. Hartford's selectboard has approved spending funds to fix the Barwood arena's ice-making capabilities. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, March 02, 2018

Hartford — Town officials will spend nearly $600,000 to keep the rink ice at the Wendell A. Barwood Arena frozen and say they’re committed to preserving the facility’s offerings to the public, even if it costs millions more in the coming years.

“We are a hockey town. We are one of the first hockey towns in the state. That’s a known thing for Hartford,” Jeff Moreno, director of athletics for the Hartford School District, told the Selectboard a short while before it voted, 6-1, earlier this week to approve the expenditure, according to CATV video of the meeting.

Moreno was one of several who spoke in favor of preserving the rink, which serves not only 50 students in the school system’s hockey programs, but hundreds of others who come to skate as individuals, or through programs offered by the Hartford Parks and Recreation Program, or the 150-member Upper Valley Hockey Association.

Jason Spaulding, president of the association, said other area rinks in Woodstock and Hanover are too fully booked to replace the ice time that would be lost if Barwood Arena were to close. The association fields the Storm hockey team.

“When we have a downed Zamboni or downed ice, we have looked for other places to rent, and it’s just not there,” he told the Selectboard during the Tuesday night meeting. “It would be a shame to see such a jewel of the community go away, because there is a deep, deep pride in this town.”

The Barwood Arena, formerly known as the BOR Arena, was built around 1975, and has been plagued in recent years by a variety of maintenance issues and chronically unreliable equipment. Voters have sent mixed signals to officials about their willingness to spend money on the rink — in 2005, they rejected a $2.8 million bond to upgrade it, but in 2009, when school officials, who own the land beneath the town-owned building, were considering not extending a lease on the facility, voters successfully petitioned them to offer a 25-year lease, and directed the Selectboard to spend $50,000 on maintenance there.

In 2013, Hartford voters approved an $8.9 million joint project bond that included $2.5 million in funding for Barwood Arena expansion and repairs, but poor cost estimates caused the project to be scaled back — a planned addition was scrapped, though the building received a new lobby, locker rooms, a roof and better lighting. The shortfall had the town and school district scrambling for hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra funds. Since that time, at least tens of thousands more dollars have been spent to replace blown compressors and other aging components in the 1990s-era refrigeration system, all while equipment failures have caused temporary rink closures and lost revenues.

Framing it as a debate about whether the town should “stay in the ice business,” Parks and Recreation Director Scott Hausler made a presentation to the board that outlined other major repairs needed by the facility.

Before casting the lone vote against the measure, Selectman Simon Dennis said he just didn’t have enough information about the scope of future costs to make a wise decision.

“I don’t understand it. I don’t know what kind of financial commitment we’re talking about,” he said. “It’s just a funny feeling for me to say we’re going to do ‘it’ when we don’t know what ‘it’ is.”

Town staff have identified several needs at the facility, some of which currently have firmer cost estimates than others. The Zamboni, which also dates to the ’90s, will cost $120,000 to replace, though Hausler expressed cautious optimism that about half of that cost could be raised from private donations. The dasher board system circling the rink will cost an estimated $125,000 to replace (down from a $250,000 estimate in October), and the floor-embedded piping system that allows the rink to be flooded — plastic pipes with metal fixtures embedded in a concrete matrix — is damaged and will need to be replaced, at an unknown cost.

And in order to prevent future funding crises, town staff are also pursuing the establishment of a capital reserve fund that would, beginning in 2020, get an annual appropriation of an unknown amount — $100,000 is being used as a placeholder figure.

Hausler also identified another big expense on the horizon — insulation and structural work to seal the building, which currently has open seams on the north and east end that allow daylight to pour in through some of the walls.

Selectboard member Mike Morris, who owns a home-building business, said he might expect a wall insulation project to cost between $500,000 and $1 million. Still, he said, he would rather see the rink preserved than walk away from the money that the town already has sunk into the rink.

“I don’t see where we have an option to just throw away $2.5 million,” he said.

Though Dennis was the only member to vote against the expenditure, other members, including Dennis Brown, expressed deep reservations. Brown said the unexpected expense fits a pattern of emergencies that the town has been forced to find funding for, often at taxpayer expense.

“I feel like when we send rockets to Mars and we got people here starving to death,” Brown said.

The $591,000 cost of the work approved by the Selectboard would largely come from surplus funds that were budgeted for a variety of line items during the current fiscal year. Available money included $193,000 out of the paving budget because certain projects came in under their budgeted amount; $53,000 that was saved when the Selectboard made the decision to close Fairview Terrace to two-way vehicle traffic; and about $110,000 for police department staff that have not yet been hired.

Town Manager Leo Pullar said the fact that such uncommitted funds could be found in the budget at all is a problem, because it shows that taxpayer money was raised for expenses that ultimately did not materialize. He chalked it up to the fact that he drafted the $15.7 million municipal budget within just a few months of being hired to the post, when some budgeting practices were held over from previous years, under poor accounting practices.

“This excess money that we happen to come across this year, I don’t think we’ll have that in future years,” he said, responding to concerns expressed by Selectboard members who had only learned about the size of the surplus after the need for the Barwood Arena was identified.

The bulk of the money the Selectboard approved this week — $514,000 — will be spent on a new refrigeration system, with the rest going to cover ancillary costs, a contingency fund, and the cost of having an expert assess the floor for a long-term fix.

A rough timeline presented to the Selectboard calls for staff to sign a contract on the refrigeration unit, and to complete the floor assessment by April; a fundraising campaign for a new Zamboni will be underway by early summer.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.