By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Veteran’s Memorial Skating Rink is the latest city-owned property to go under the microscope amid claims it is in declining condition and that the city is hogging rental income rather than spending it to take care of the facility.
City Council President Robert Scatamacchia said he has received complaints that the facility is falling apart and that the city is not following the terms of its contract with the state to provide preventative maintenance.
The state handed control of the rink to the city more than two decades ago in an arrangement that requires Haverhill to spend at least 10 percent of rental income on maintenance. The facility, which charges $220 an hour for ice time, is on track to generate about $310,000 this year, officials said.
Scatamacchia said there are concerns about the rink’s ice-making machine and its ice-resurfacing machine. He also said the roof leaks in several places.
“The concern is the facility is in poor condition and that we’re not doing proper maintenance,” Scatamacchia said.
The council’s Administration and Finance Committee is meeting tonight at 7 p.m. at City Hall to listen to concerns and investigate the matter. Scatamacchia said he supports creating an independent commission, similar to the Stadium Commission, that would oversee the rink. The facility is at 229 Brook St. behind the high school.
Human Services Director Vincent Ouellette is in charge of the ice rink. He said the city is actually spending more on maintenance than required.
Ouellette said the facility is on track to generate about $310,000 in rental income this year and that $48,000 has already been spent on maintenance and repairs. The city spent $78,000 on the facility last year, $90,000 the year before and $101,000 three years ago, Ouellette said.
Some of that money was used to replace plexiglass and dasher boards that surround the rink and floor tiles in the lobby. Dressing rooms were also redone and a new fire alarm system was installed, Ouellette said. Repairs have also been made to the roof, he said.
Moreover, Ouellette said the city has set aside $70,000 to replace the leaking sections of roof and buy a new ice-making machine this summer. The city also intends install a woman’s dressing room, now that the high school plans to offer girls ice hockey next school year, Ouellette said.
“I have received lots of compliments that the ice was better and the rink looks better this year that is has in previous years,” Ouellette said. “But it’s 40 years old. It has very small dressing rooms. We are doing the best we can to keep it clean and updated.”
Ouellette said he believes one of the problems is that people don’t see all the improvements that have been made. As examples, he pointed to the new fire alarm system and boiler, which is used to heat water before it is converted to ice.
“A lot of the improvements are behind-the-scenes,” he said. “People don’t see them or know about them.”
Ouellette said the facility’s ice-resurfacing machine — called a UKKO — is almost 20 years old but is still in good condition.
“It still works fine, but we’ll probably look at replacing it in three years,” he said. “The ice condensation machine is just about at the end of it’s life, but we have $38,000 to replace it. We’re also going to be replacing the roof around the perimeter of the building. We have $40,000 for that.”
In recent weeks, the council has been pushing Mayor James Fiorentini to spend more money on maintaining city property, specifically Trinity Stadium and Winnekenni Park.
Councilor John Michitson, one of the loudest critics of the city’s maintenance record, said he plans to focus on preventative maintenance during the council’s upcoming budget hearings.
“Moving forward, we should ensure that revenues from the rink are spent on the rink, especially for preventative maintenance,” Michitson said. “More broadly, I’ll ask Mayor Fiorentini to identify minimum preventative maintenance needs and associated cost for each city-owned facility during budget hearings. That way we can track where we are falling short in budgeting for preventative maintenance and the implications of falling short in funding. That will end uncertainty and instill accountability.