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Jennings ‘shocked’ at Watertown ice arena’s condition

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Councilman Stephen A. Jennings said he was “shocked” at the condition of the Watertown Municipal Arena after taking his first tour of the site and attending a Watertown Privateers game last week.

Calling the situation unsafe, Mr. Jennings, who took office Jan. 1., said he was surprised to see how the Privateers and their opponents come in contact with the public when they enter and leave the ice rink at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, where the Federal Hockey League plays.

“I think something needs to be done,” Mr. Jennings said in support of a planned major upgrade at the ice rink.

Like his colleagues on the City Council, Mr. Jennings said he wants to cut costs on the project, now projected at $7.7 million.

After seeing the 116-page report, council members instructed city staff and the Rochester engineering firm Stantec Consulting Services to find ways to scale back on the project.

At first, Stantec proposed three options with costs ranging from $9.7 million to $11.1 million, depending on amenities and space configuration. That figure then was reduced to about $8.8 million.

Since then, staff and Stantec have found ways to reconfigure the floor plan, reduce the square footage of the project and combine some use of rooms to get the cost down to $7.7 million, with the goal to reduce it further to about $7 million, City Engineer Kurt W. Hauk said Thursday.

At the last meeting, Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr. said he would like the project’s cost to be reduced to about $6 million.

In 2009, a report by the Watertown engineering firm Bernier, Carr & Associates identified two options for the arena. The first listed $3.2 million in projects to keep the arena performing at existing standards. The second option listed eight renovation projects that cost an additional $3.3 million.

Council members intend to discuss the topic at a Feb. 11 work session that outlines the changes made to the project, Mr. Hauk said. They have said for years that an upgrade of the 47,000-square-foot arena is needed, especially since it has a persistently leaky roof.

Erin E. Gardner, superintendent of parks and recreation, said Mr. Jennings’s tour of the arena was helpful. She said she hopes the other council members take up the invitation for “a first-hand look” at the 40-year-old facility.

Earlier this week, Mr. Jennings said he did not realize that hockey players and the public enter and leave the arena the same way. He acknowledged that situation may have played a role in an incident in which a Watertown woman and her 7-year-old daughter allegedly were assaulted by Danbury Whalers head coach Philip P. Esposito Jr. following the Jan. 1 game against the Privateers.

Mr. Esposito is due back in Watertown City Court on Monday.

Mr. Jennings also did not know that a mobile home is used as a hospitality room for performers who come to the arena for concerts.

He said the facility is important because of the variety of activities held there and the potential as an economic development tool for local businesses from the people who attend hockey games and concerts.

“We have to see what we can afford to do,” he said. “The community deserves the best arena it can have.”

As it stands, the project includes a new entrance and lobby, a main locker room and hospitality room, more office space and a combined training-break-locker room. Plans also call for a second floor to accommodate bleachers with an entrance from above, rather than at rink level. The bleachers would seat about 1,500 fans.

By having the public enter from above, the design would create separate entrances for hockey teams and fans.

The ice rink’s roof, concrete floor and refrigeration system also would be replaced.

Stantec is being paid $99,700 to complete the project’s preliminary design work. Mr. Hauk said the city needs to decide soon how Stantec should proceed with the project’s scope.

Further design work may be completed by March, and the project would go out to bid early next winter, with construction starting during the spring of 2015 and being completed the following fall, before the hockey season.

BY THE NUMBERS
After receiving three options for upgrading the Watertown ice arena, the City Council deemed them too expensive and is trying to limit the cost of the project.
n$9.7 million to $11.1 million: Initial cost range of the three options, depending on amenities
n$7.7 million: current projected cost after engineers scaled down the project
n$6 million: price tag that Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr. said he wants after further reductions
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