By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — A City Council committee has recommended that a commission be formed to oversee and advocate for improvements to Veteran’s Memorial Skating Rink.
The recommendation followed a meeting last night to discuss concerns from youth hockey and skating coaches about the poor conditions of the facility, which Haverhill has leased from the state for more than two decades.
Bill Mahoney, a representative of the Greater Haverhill Pentucket Youth Hockey program, outlined a long list of problems at the rink, including a leaky roof, outdated ice-making machine, malfunctioning heating and electrical systems and small dressing rooms. He also raised concerns about poor lighting in the parking lot, potholes in the driveway and the location of vending machines.
Council President Robert Scatamacchia said he recently toured the facility and that he was shocked at how much it has deteriorated in recent years.
“If we had a commission, that’s five or six people to go the mayor for funding, not just Vinnie (Ouellette),” Scatamacchia said.
Human Services Director Vincent Ouellette, who oversees the rink, said he has about $100,000 saved to repair the worst sections of the roof and buy a new ice-making machine. He said the city will also be making a number of aesthetic improvements while the facility is closed this summer. Plans are in the works to borrow $250,000 in three years for a new roof, Ouellette said.
Ouellette said the facility is on track to generate about $310,000 in rental income this year, but that a large chunk of that money is used to pay for maintenance workers and utilities.
There is one full-time maintenance worker and six part-timers, he said. The $210-per-hour ice time rate is set by the state, Ouellette said.
Several youth league representatives said the facility needs a full-time manager and someone to promote and sell ice time, especially since Ouellette oversees the city’s Citizens Center and many city programs.
“A manager would be nice, but then that’s $50,000 or $60,000 that can’t be spent on maintenance,” Ouellette said. “But someone to sell ice time would be great because that’s a position that would pay for itself.”
Ouellette said the facility was actually losing money four years ago, but that after staffing cuts and other reductions, it is now turning an annual profit.
Councilors said the city should be doing a better job selling ice time and generating more money.
There was discussion about keeping the rink open year-round to increase revenue.
Tom O’Brien, the high school athletic director, said the facility has gradually improved in his two years here.
“Our hockey coach said the ice was fine all year,” O’Brien said. “The cleanliness is good, but I agree there are lots of small problems. But we’re fortunate to have it on the high school campus.”
O’Brien, who is chairman of the Stadium Commission, said forming a similar group to oversee the ice rink could help with big decisions like prioritizing where revenue is spent.
“I don’t think you’d want a commission in charge of daily operations, but they could help decide between a new roof, an ice machine or a Zamboni,” O’Brien said.
The council will likely take up the committee’s recommendation for an ice rink commission later this month. It would up to Mayor James Fiorentini to actually form the group and appoint its members, Scatamacchia said.
“I’ve been playing there since I was 6 years old and I want to continue playing there in the rec league after I graduate,” said Haverhill High School senior and hockey player Ian Malone. “I would just like to see the rink maintained and run a little better.”