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Park and Recreation Commission recommends building new uncovered outdoor ice rink

Skaters at the Jack Kirrane Ice Skating rink on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. Photo by Zoe Zekos
July 10, 2024

The Park and Recreation Commission voted on Tuesday night to recommend that the town build a new uncovered outdoor ice skating rink, after a dramatic, chaotic meeting in which the vote swung between two different options.

The seven members of the commission first voted 4-3 in favor of recommending a covered outdoor rink. Half an hour later, the commission reversed that vote after a change of heart by member James Carroll, voting by the same margin to recommend an uncovered outdoor rink.

The final recommendation is for essentially a modernized version of the existing Jack Kirrane Ice Skating Rink in Larz Anderson Park. The vote does not commit the town to any decision, but it’s a major step forward in a years-long disagreement that has divided various constituencies and town officials.

Read previous Brookline.News coverage about the “morass” of opinions on the ice rink

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The deterioration of the existing rink has forced the issue over recent years. After multiple refrigeration failures since 2019, the rink is currently running on costly temporary chillers.

“You have to do something,” town administrator Charles Carey told the town’s Select Board at a recent meeting. “The rink is failing. The rink will not survive another five years, especially in this warming environment.”

Carey said that replacing the rink with a new updated outdoor rink would cost around $10 million.

That was the least expensive option put forward by Edge Sports, a consulting firm hired by the town, but not one of the consultants’ preferred choices. (Click here to read Edge’s full programming study, which has many more details on the possible revenues, operation costs and schedules for each option).

Edge consultants recommended building either an indoor rink or an outdoor covered rink, which they argued would allow for more consistent skating and hockey and bring in more revenue.

Skaters at the Jack Kirrane Ice Skating rink on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. Photo by Zoe Zekos

Carroll’s vote swings decision

Carroll, who initially voted in favor of the covered rink but later changed his vote to the uncovered rink, explained that he foresees steep opposition to anything beyond the “status quo,” including building a rink with a roof.

“I’ve just been at this for a long time. I’ve seen all of the opposition, the arguments, and all the committees and commissions and all the interested parties in the town of Brookline. I feel this is the best way to move something forward,” he said.

In the final vote to recommend an uncovered rink, commissioners Jane Flanagan, Antonia Bellalta, Lauren Bernard and Carroll voted yes, with John Pan, Theresa Mooney and Clara Batchelor voting no.

Several public commenters at the meeting alluded to opposition and “pushback” likely to result from a proposed indoor or covered rink, in particular from conservationists who have argued against a major construction project in Larz Anderson Park.

“You can’t have a covered rink. It’s like putting a roof on Fenway Park. You’re never going to get this through,” said Peter Senopolous, who lives nearby in Jamaica Plain, during the meeting.

Earlier in the meeting, commission member Mooney had led the charge to recommend a covered rink.

“An outdoor rink that is covered … allows us to have a nice, magical feel where you are outdoors in the winter time enjoying the feel of a Boston winter and ice skating,” she said. “But it also protects us from some of the issues we are facing when it comes to climate, like rain and sunlight.”

Last winter, the existing rink was closed for more than a quarter of the skating season because of warm or rainy weather, according to Collins.

The consultant said that with modern technology in a new uncovered rink, that could be improved upon and the season extended. But uncertainty remains around how an outdoor rink would fare given the changing climate.

Other commenters called for the town to build an indoor rink, which could be used more widely by youth and high school hockey programs in Brookline. Currently the teams are often forced to travel elsewhere because of the outdoor rink’s size and weather conditions.

The decision will next move to the Select Board, the town’s five-member elected executive body, which is likely to take up the issue up in the coming months.

Correction: A previous version of this story contained incorrect information about the outcome of the Park and Recreation Commission vote on Tuesday.