Ever since Belmont Iceland closed in 2016, ice skaters in the city and throughout the Peninsula have been pushing for a replacement.
For a brief moment, they were hopeful they’d get their wish.
The city is planning to construct a new community center and one potential element of those plans was an ice skating rink. However, the locally popular amenity failed to garner sufficient support in a recent survey and several stakeholder meetings.
The survey reached more than 2,000 people, of which 1,588 participated online. For the online participants, an ice skating rink was the fourth most popular choice among 12 other potential indoor spaces and it dropped to fifth place among respondents who live in Belmont.
In addition to base programming for the community center, five potential “enhancement” or add-on programs were identified: a gym, outdoor pool, community room, recreational ice skating rink and a larger competitive ice skating rink.
A citizens advisory committee for the community center and the city’s Planning and Parks and Recreation commissions were then asked to rank those five choices and both ice skating options came in last place, said Parks and Recreation Director Brigitte Shearer.
“[An ice rink] didn’t really rank highly enough from the community survey and when the two ice rink options were presented to [the above commissions and committee] the consensus was the ice rinks consistently ranked in the fourth and fifth position,” Shearer said. “There was concern about whether this was something the whole community needed. … The community felt other offerings such a gym, pool etc. met the needs of the broader community.”
The “enhancement” options are now down to a gym, outdoor pool and community room ranked in that order and it’s not yet determined whether the community center will be able to accommodate just one, two or all of those proposals.
The “enhancement” facilities will be in addition to base programming, which will include classrooms, a health and fitness room, art space, playground, basketball and multi-use court and dog park, among other spaces. The center would replace the aging Barrett Community Center, a former school, off Ralston Avenue and just west of Alameda de las Pulgas.
During a Planning Commission meeting earlier this month, Commissioner Caroline Pyrz described an ice rink as a “novelty.”
“The ice rink is more of a novelty item and shouldn’t be on the table,” she said. “I don’t think it’s feasible at this point. … It would be lovely but it’s not a top three item.”
Ice rinks are typically operated by private companies and not cities and the rule of thumb is that a population of 57,000 people is needed to support such a facility, said Dawn Merkes, principal with Group 4 Architecture, which is handling the community center project. Belmont’s population is about 27,000.
“So it would likely be more of a regional draw than a local amenity,” she said.
Merkes also said ice skating rinks are not cheap.
“It’s hard to imagine a positive cost recovery. If you think the pool is expensive to operate the ice rink is probably right up there or higher than the pool,” she said.
During the meeting, Chair Thomas McCune acknowledged the Peninsula’s passionate ice-skating community and also agreed that constructing and operating one is costly.
“I worked on the design and construction of [an ice rink] and it was a very expensive facility to build and operate because of the energy and a bunch of stuff that goes into it,” he said.
Harmandeep Madra, a Belmont resident and member of the citizens advisory committee, said an ice skating rink is one of the few needed amenities lacking in the area.
“An ice skating rink is something we don’t have and we do have spaces for weddings, swimming pools and outdoor fields already,” he said. “We have an opportunity to leave something for our kids and their future and that should be considered.”
He’s also disappointed by the process that resulted in an ice rink not making the list of potential community center amenities.
“Every effort was made by officials to discourage people from selecting the ice rink,” he said.
While an ice rink appears to be off the table, at least for now, Vice Mayor Warren Lieberman — an ice hockey player — said it’s not completely out of the running.
“We’re in the early stages of planning and council hasn’t voted on anything so I’d never say anything is out of the running,” he said, while conceding it’s “unlikely” an ice rink will be part of the community center. “Our Parks and Recreation department is in the process of getting community feedback and that process isn’t complete yet. Things can change, we may or may not expect them to, but I don’t rule anything out while it’s in the exploratory phase.”
Lieberman added if the city were to be offered a significant donation to build an ice-skating rink or other amenity, then the council would “certainly need to consider any such offer carefully.”
As it happens, the Silicon Valley Ice Skating Association is accepting donations to sponsor an ice rink in Belmont, said Sarah Feldman, the organization’s president.
“If the city of Belmont decides to keep a creative ice rink facility in the Barrett Center, it would be the gem of the city for decades to come,” Feldman said. “With the planned additional housing increases in the area and the dearth of ice facilities, current and future ice athletes of all ages need access to an ice facility back in Belmont to maintain healthy lives.”
Over the years, many well-known skaters have practiced in Belmont, including Peggy Fleming, Brian Boitano and Debi Thomas, Feldman added.
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