Town-Owned Rink Boasts 'Best Ice Around'

Greenwich's Dorothy Hamill rink: quaint, charming and awaiting modernization.

Dorothy Hamill needs a makeover. The rink, that is.

Having evolved into its present state piecemeal, Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink came to life in 1971 as a slab of ice encircled by a chain link fence. Established on a field by the former Byram School, the rink was an instant hit.

A few years later, bleachers were added and a roof erected—like a giant carport.

Over the years, walls were added and bleachers installed. A warming hut was built to house the Zamboni. Before locker rooms were added in late 90s, patrons changed inside tents. Today, there is a row of heated rooms, including a rentable party room, an officials room, a rentals booth, and an office with a cashier's window. To create those spaces, the bleachers were lifted and affixed permanently atop the rooms.

Repository of memories and traditions

Rink staff have accumulated a trove of stories and souvenirs over the years. A fine example of taxidermy known as "Rink Mink" presides over staff from atop the public address system. Beyond the walls of the office, canned music and the sounds of blades scraping ice are punctuated by hoots and squeals at Santa's annual skate-through in December.

The post-holiday season features the annual Town Ice Skating Competition, now in its 36th year. Scheduled for February 24th, over 100 young figure skaters are expected to participate in what is for many their first competition.

The competition is sponsored and cohosted by the Windy Hill Skating Club. According to Park & Rec director Joseph Siciliano, back in the 70s after much discussion over where to locate the rink, townspeople exclaimed, "They put the rink up on the windy hill!" which explains the unique club name.

And there are other stories. There was the newly engaged couple who came to the rink to celebrate. "She lost the ring  on the ice," recalled 18-year rink manager Rich Ernye. "We scoured the place. At the end of ice season we even went through the snow pile with a metal detector. Never found it." 

"But, oh, the ice," exclaimed Ernye. "The kids grow up learning to skate here, then skate in college maybe. They come back and say this is the best ice around." 

"Not too hard. Not too soft," said Jason Vien, longtime skating guard and one of five Zamboni operators.

Lore and loyalties aside, the rink is in need of modernization

The rink has no insulation. Nor is there heat or air conditioning. Each spring the ice is melted and rolls of green turf are unfurled, extending the rink's use through the summer months. But as the temperature soars outside, so it does inside.

Ernye explained that since there is no foyer or vestibule to serve as a buffer from the elements, the temperature in the rink mirrors the temperature outside. In the summer soccer, t-ball, flag football and lacrosse are played on turf in the rink. "When ice season begins in September and it's still hot out, it's hot in the rink," said Ernye.

"I've seen the goal frame melt into the ice," added Vien.

There are other drawbacks beyond lack of climate control. There are no showers in the changing rooms. The rink is 15' short of standard NHL length. The piping under the ice is original. Asked what would happen in the event of a leak, Ernye explained that repairs would involve shutting down the rink and melting the ice.

Capital improvement projects jockey for priority

The project to significantly upgrade the rink has been pushed back more than once. The rink building renovation has jockeyed for priority against the Greenwich High School MISA project; the rink project was bumped. More recently the rink renovation vied for priority with the central fire station project, the Byram Park swimming pool project, and the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center rehabilitation.

According to Siciliano, the renovation funds come from the DPW capital budget, not the Parks and Recreation budget. "The projected years that the work would take place are 2015-2016 with $500,000 estimated for the permitting process, design work and some staging. Then there is a projected cost of $4.5 million for a building renovation in 2016-2017."

"From a manager's point of view, it's frustrating," said Ernye. "We were at the top of the docket, then MISA project bumped this."

And so the wait for modernization continues.

Year-Round Hive of Activity

The rink is home to a dizzying array of activities, including ice hockey, league play, figure skating, and public skating. The rink accommodates Greenwich High School Hockey teams, Greenwich Blues Travel Hockey, Windy Hill Skating Club, public sessions, group lessons, hockey clinics, youth hockey leagues, not to mention birthday parties and PTA fundraisers. And that's just during the ice months.

As the rink languishes on the list of capital projects, it begs the question: Will the dual NHL-size rinks at Stamford's Chelsea Piers lure away Greenwich skaters? If the proposed four-rink ice complex in Rye Brook on the state line goes forward, will that draw off Greenwich skaters?

Dorothy Hammill Rink is located at 14 Sherman Ave., in Greenwich. Tel. (203) 531-8560

Do you think a building renovation to the Dorothy Hamill ice rink estimated to cost $5 million should be a priority in the consolidated capital budget? Let us know in the comments section.

Jane January 23, 2013 at 02:09 AM
I suppose then, according to "Johnny Walker" we should close all the parks, the pool, tennis courts, and stop all football, soccer, cheerleading etc. I'm gonna just guess here, Johnny you don't skate or have children in this town. Not everything has to be a profitable business.I teach at Hamill Rink and I can tell you firsthand our rink is amazing and it enriches the lives of many, many residents, mine included. Have you seen the prices at some of these private new rinks??!! They are outrageous!!!! As a Greenwich tax-payer myself, I am more than happy having the rink.I would love to see it renovated and extended to an all year rink, a feeling that is shared by many people that go to the rink.I know because I'm frequently asked why we aren't open all year. I don't think we will suffer financially here in Greenwich funding a project that will bring such joy to all who use it. If you go there on the weekends you will see that alot of people enjoying the rink. If you saw the look on a child's face when they finally "get it" or they get that first goal, that is priceless!!!!! Surely something we in Greenwich can afford. I think the return on our investment will be well worth it. Maybe not the biggest money maker, but for sure huge in enriching our lives and our children's lives. Sometimes life is about more than just making money.
Johnny Walker January 23, 2013 at 05:36 AM
Yes I live and have children in Greemwich and pay Genwich taxes. As far as the low price to skate at the rink that is because it is not for profit and is priced lower than what it costs to keep the place open-a common attribute of government run businesses. As far as the beautiful faces and great memories I do appreciate what you are saying but wold those faces be any less captivating or that goal any less important if they were experienced at a private for profit ice rink like Chelsea Piers or the new Rye Brook rink? I would doubt that the current Dorothy Hamil rink meets current safety, zoning or building codes. An ironic fact seeing that the town of Greenwich is so zealous with enforcing their zoning laws. A town run business in a building that does not adhere to current safety and zoning laws, you,wouldn't see that happen with a modern newly built private rink. I can understand your position but unfortunately I am a firm supporter of having government stop interfering with free enterprise. I understand money isn't everything in life, but I do realize its extremely important. I bet if we looked in to how much this rink has made or cost over the last 30 years we'd find it's been a massive loser of taxpayers money. I'd also like to see attendance numbers how many Greenwich residents go there per year, how many Stamford resident how many port Chester people. My guess it would be like island beach, for a $3.00 Ferry ride anyone can be a Greenwich resident for the day.
Tony January 23, 2013 at 01:28 PM
When I look at my choices for settling down and raising a family, I look at the whole town; schools, beach, library, churches, places to gather like the islands and civic centers, proximity to shopping, transportation, etc. Also, I'll be making a huge investment for my house, so I'm interested in the value of the property and the taxes. The town needs to balance all these priorities: provide an environment that gives the most value to the townspeople while keeping the taxes as low as possible. It's been my experience for the 20 years that I've been here with my family - and as evidenced by our relatively stable home prices and low taxes, that our Town has "won" many more times than they've 'lost.' Keep in mind that the (only) priority for a business is to make a profit. Charge as much as you can for as long as you can. No real 'social responsibility.' However, if you consider the alternative of stripping down all the Town's enhancements and wait for private enterprise to offer these services, with an eye toward reducing expenses, you need to be careful. You might wind up with a generic, "blah" Town that doesn't attract mid sized businesses and too many higher value homes. Over time, the schools deteriorate, the taxes go up and the home values stagnate. You have the choice to live in a town that doesn't have our 'extras.' You can move to....Port Chester. We're going to miss ya!
Jane January 23, 2013 at 04:35 PM
Lol Tony, well put!!!!! I've lived here my whole life (49 years) and when I was young it was roller skating on Tuesday nights. My friends and I still talk about those wonderful days. I work Friday night (tween) skate and it reminds me of those days. I think Johnny you should come to our Saturday or Sunday (2-4) public session and see for yourself just how much our town loves the rink. We are PACKED!!!!!! We desperately need a renovation, it's over-due. I hope the rink lasts long enough to actually make the budget because if it doesn't we may lose a season or two playing catch up. When we close in March, the skaters are sad to see it close for the summer. I hear over and over "I wish you guys would stay open all year." "Why don't you?" We all feel the same. Obviously skating isn't your thing Johnny and big private business is. I was driving today and I wondered what you thought of our beautiful gardens in town that are planted, dug up and planted again. They don't bring one penny of revenue to our town, or do they? I love Tony's letter, it was perfect!! :O)
Steve Dawson January 24, 2013 at 01:04 AM
If everything other than fire and police was left to the private sector, then Greenwich would become one large theme park for hedge funds and trust fund babies. Mr. Johnny Walker is one of the cynics Oscar Wilde had in mind when he said that such a person knows the price of everything and the value of nothing....


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