Proposed Skating Rink Slips Nicely Into NYA Facility
Never mind Christmas in July. The official Christmas is coming up this month, anyway. How about hockey in July?
There is a new plan in place for a proposed skating rink to be added to the NYA Sports & Fitness complex at Fairfield Hills.
Originally proposed as an add-on building off the back of NYA, the new idea is for the skating surface to be situated inside one of the existing wings of the NYA building. Rink developers, as well as NYA representatives, are hopeful of groundbreaking in April and for the rink to be in operation by the end of July.
Bob Crawford, with nearly two decades of ice facility management, including overseeing national award-winning staff, programs, and events — Champions Skating Center, International Skating Center of Connecticut, Bolton Ice Palace, and Bushnell Park Skating Rink — along with his co-owner/operator of skating rinks, Alan Lazowski, is behind the project for what would be his fifth year-round facility for the state — right here in Newtown.
The idea was first pitched by Mr Crawford, a former National Hockey League player who skated for the Hartford Whalers, along with NYA founder Peter D’Amico, late in the winter of 2017. The plan at the time had an agreement in which the NYA board would sell NYA back to Mr D’Amico, who is the guarantor of the mortgage for NYA, along with Mr Crawford’s rink development team, for $6.5 million.
But the project will prove to be more cost effective, both from a construction/renovation standpoint and in operations of NYA once the rink is built, if the ice surface is included in the existing footprint, Mr Crawford said.
This plan involves moving the basketball/tennis court space, which sits in the wing to the right as one enters NYA, over to the turf field wing. In the end, the courts would replace approximately 40 percent of the existing turf area while enabling programs that utilize courts and turf to not be negatively impacted, said both Mr Crawford and Chair for the NYA Board of Directors, Maggie Conway.
The original plan would have been too costly and taken too much time — likely a couple of years — to make reality, Mr Crawford said.
Mr Crawford added that the new concept will cost slightly less than the estimated $4 to $5 million that was originally thought to be necessary with the rink in a new building off the back of NYA. That figure would have proven to be higher with the original plan, Mr Crawford added.
Now, the intent is for Mr Crawford’s group to manage the entire facility while continuing to employ NYA officials to run the day-to-day operations of the field and court sports, while his group manages the ice sports, which would include hockey, figure skating, public skating, and potentially curling.
“We really like the people that are there,” Mr Crawford said of the NYA staff and board members.
If all goes well, Mr Crawford commented, he would like to break ground on the project in late March or early April and have it completed by the end of July, a time stretch that represents the slowest period of activity at NYA, Mr Crawford said.
“Our goal is to provide a world-class yet affordable facility, and we’re working our hardest to achieve that reality,” said Mr Crawford, adding, “It’s fun to be around people that want to make it happen.”
Claris Construction is handling the design. Everything Ice, which has built more than 1,000 rinks and retrofitted a couple hundred ice surfaces into existing buildings such as this proposed setup, will be in charge of putting the ice surface in.
“In this business, you want to work with people who know what they’re doing and have done it a thousand times,” Mr Crawford said of the importance of having the right companies and people in place to make the rink a success.
Mr D’Amico continues to be involved to help facilitate the project and to serve as an advisor for Mr Crawford.
“I just want to step back and let other people move forward,” said Mr D’Amico, who has extensive soccer coaching and team ownership experience, adding that he may continue to help out with the soccer programs.
“He’s a great community man. Not just a great community man, a fantastic community man,” Mr Crawford said of Mr D’Amico.
“Bringing the rink in will add financially and also allow other sports to be played there in addition to all of the activities offered,” Mr D’Amico said.
The courts and fields are not rented out full-time, and number crunching by NYA board members helped determined that combining the two surfaces into one wing will not negatively impact those who use the facility.
“We looked at our numbers; we looked at how many people use the space,” said Ms Conway, adding that there will not be any sacrifice to existing users and current programs. “We want to make sure we were not sacrificing any of the areas that the community has supported all of these years.”
Mr D’Amico said that since the rink will go into an existing building, permits are not necessary.
Responding in an e-mail to a query from The Newtown Bee, Rob Sibley, director of Planning, Land Use and Emergency Management, noted that Special Exceptions [SE] are “only triggered when any new structure greater than 1500 SqFt is proposed in an allowed zone.” A new ice rink building in the fountain area at NYA, as earlier proposed, would have required “an amendment to an existing SE or a new application. Also, an SE application would have been required to build a six-story ice rink, but both are speculation and not part of any proposal,” he stated.
Reconfiguring the interior of any facility, Mr Sibley said, “does not need any new zoning approval for an existing building with the current existing use.”
“We’re adding to the use of the facility for the people in town. As long as it makes financial sense, it will happen,” Mr D’Amico commented.
And Mr Crawford said he is confident this is a worthwhile investment.
“We know it’s going to be a challenge, building the business, but we’re committed to it,” Mr Crawford said. “You have to know the marketplace, and you have to know the desire of the community. Do ice rinks fail? Yes. Do we have confidence that the overall project can be successful? Yes — because of all of the elements involved.”
The intent is for Mr Crawford’s team to use its expertise in running the ice rink side, while allowing NYA employees to use their experience to help keep things running smoothly with the field and turf sports.
Mr D’Amico said Mr Crawford is meeting with town officials simply to present the plan, keep officials informed, and ensure there are no issues with the concept.
“The most important thing to us is to make sure all of the parties are happy and supportive of the project,” Ms Conway added. “We’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback. If anything, it’s an enhancement of what we already have.”
Mr Crawford spoke to answered questions from members of the Fairfield Hills Authority on November 26 during the public participation portion and to Planning & Zoning on December 6 during the director’s report and communications portion of the meeting. He said the project was well-received.
According to the Fairfield Hills Authority minutes, the concern of parking at NYA was addressed. Mr Crawford, according to the minutes, indicated that high school hockey games typically draw between 80 and 100 people in attendance.
Mr Crawford told The Newtown Bee that parking will not be an issue.
“Parking is a function of schedule,” said Mr Crawford, adding that, for example, scheduling events that start and finish on the hour on one side of the building and on the half hour on the other side will break up the traffic and parking.
On top of that, Mr Crawford has visited NYA numerous times and noticed that a portion of the existing space is not used most of the time.
“It’s very seasonal,” said Mr Crawford, adding that the addition of a rink will help balance the overall flow of activity year-round, while increasing business there during the summer months since his rinks — all but the outdoor venue in Hartford — function in the summers, too.
Currently, Newtown High School’s hockey team travels to Danbury Ice Arena for practices and home games.
“The biggest thing for them is they’re going to have the added benefit of being able to practice five minutes from school. That’s going to be huge for them. That obviously helps the academics,” said Mr Crawford, alluding to the gained time currently lost on travel back and forth to the rink.
The plan is for designated boys’ and girls’ locker rooms allowing Newtown players a spot to leave their equipment rather than lugging it to and from their homes or school. Mr Crawford, a proponent of girls’ hockey, said a goal is for NHS to have its own girls’ hockey program in short time. Currently, there are four Newtown High girls playing on a co-op team led by Masuk of Monroe, which plays at The Rinks at Shelton.
“We’ll run some tournaments to create some economic activity in the area,” Mr Crawford anticipates. He added that use of the rink should help business at area hotels, restaurants, and gas stations, for example.
“I’m like a hungry kid in a candy store,” Mr Crawford said.