By Shawn Regan
---- — Mayor James Fiorentini is expected to appoint several coaches and parents to a committee which will advise the city on conditions at the Veterans Memorial Ice Rink.
The mayor proposed the advisory committee of people involved with ice skating and hockey groups earlier this month. City councilors are expected to consider the committee at their July 23 meeting.
The council has been looking for ways to improve the 45-year-old rink and provide better maintenance there in the wake of complaints that it has fallen into disrepair and that the city spends too little money to take care of it.
Haverhill has been leasing the rink from the state for $1 a year for more than two decades. The current 25-year lease expires in 2027. It stipulates the city must spend at least $1.4 million in capital improvements during the lease, officials said.
Human Services Director Vincent Ouellette, who is in charge of the rink, and several youth skating and hockey coaches have said a variety of state rules specifying how and to whom the city can sell ice time has limited the facility’s rental income potential.
Councilors said Ouellette is unable to focus enough attention on the rink because he has too many other duties and responsibilities for the city, including overseeing the Citizens Center and Recreation Department.
As a result of recent discussions, the council asked the mayor to form a commission similar to the one that oversees Trinity Stadium, the former Haverhill Stadium.
But Fiorentini said such a commission is not possible because the city does not own the rink and because it was set up by the state to be a regional facility.
Instead, the mayor said he would form a committee of coaches and others who use the rink to advise Ouellette on issues there as they arise.
“Vinnie does a great job running the rink and he has my complete support,” Fiorentini said of Ouellette. “In just the last few years, he has reduced salaries from $143,000 a year to $67,000. It’s now a self-sustaining facility and we also make enough to set aside money every year for capital repairs and improvements.”
During the council’s review of the matter last month, coaches and others who use the rink outlined a list of problems there, including a leaky roof, outdated ice-making machine, malfunctioning heating and electrical systems, and small dressing rooms. They also raised concerns about poor lighting in the parking lot, potholes in the driveway and the location of vending machines.
Ouellette said he has more than $100,000 saved to repair the worst sections of the roof and buy a new ice-making machine. He said the city will also make several 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, he said.
Ouellette said the rink 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, he said.
Youth league representatives and councilors said the facility needs a full-time manager and someone to promote and sell ice time.
The Haverhill rink is one of 19 regional ice facilities owned by the state, but most of the others are run by professional management companies. Councilors said they are not interested in hiring a company to run the rink.
The rink, which is behind the high school, is home ice for both the Haverhill High and Pentucket Regional High hockey teams.