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Final design plans for Fairgrounds Municipal Ice Arena come up for City Council vote

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Watertown City Council members will be asked Monday night to spend $550,000 for the final design of the long-awaited renovations of the Watertown Municipal Arena in what would be a clearing of the project’s first major hurdle.

The council is expected to vote on a $510,403 contract with Stantec Consulting Services, a Rochester engineering firm, to draw up the final plans for the $6.2 million to nearly $7 million project.

During the past year, Stantec, which has been paid $99,790 so far, worked on several variations of preliminary plans for the major renovations of the 40-year-old facility at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.

In February, the council informally agreed to move forward with the planned renovations at the arena after seeing how Stantec found ways to cut the project’s cost. To pass on Monday night, it will take four votes from the five-member council.

On Friday, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said he expects council members will approve the contract with Stantec since they already have shown their support for the project.

“I think this is the next step,” he said.

Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr., who has expressed his desire to find other ways to reduce costs, said Friday he generally supports the project.

The big vote will come after bids are returned next fall, which will show the project’s final cost, he said, noting he wants to make sure the project includes only what’s needed and not any unnecessary amenities.

Councilwoman Teresa R. Macaluso agreed, saying that some items, such as replacing the roof and adding new locker rooms, are long overdue.

“Obviously, we want to keep costs down to a minimum,” she said.

Mr. Butler also wants to know whether the final plans include placing the team benches on the same side as the bleachers or on the opposite side, as has been discussed in recent months.

On Friday, City Engineer Kurt W. Hauk said the bench issue has not been resolved and council members still must discuss it further.

Plans call for a second floor to accommodate collapsible bleachers with an entrance from above, rather than at rink level. By having the public enter from above, the design would create separate entrances for hockey teams and fans. Stantec has recommended putting the bleachers on the opposite side, so fans get a better view of the hockey games.

Mr. Butler has argued that the city should develop “a Plan B” in case bids come in too high, suggesting a planned second floor as an alternative bid.

In December, Stantec proposed three options ranging from $9.7 million to $11.1 million. In the ensuing weeks, city staff and Stantec found ways to reduce the cost to about $7.8 million.

As it stands, the project would include a new entrance and lobby on the building’s west side, a main locker room and a hospitality room, more office space, a new concession area and a combined training-break locker room. The ice rink’s roof would be replaced and a new concrete floor would be installed.

To reduce costs, the consultants eliminated such amenities as a pro shop and combined a multipurpose and party room. The city will pay for the final design through a $550,000 bond, which would include $35,000 to hire an engineering firm to conduct hazardous material tests and almost $5,000 for the cost of the bond.

Bids would go out later this year for a spring 2015 construction start.

The ice rink is the home of the Watertown Privateers semiprofessional hockey team and youth hockey games. Discussion of the renovations comes at a time when the Privateers might be sold to a local group of investors.

Concerts, festivals and other events also are held at the arena.

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