Replacing the Rink? Upcoming Study to Look At All DCR Property in Charlestown

A comprehensive, upcoming study by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) of all its properties in Charlestown will likely also include a conversation about the future of Emmons Horrigan O’Neil (EHO) Skating Rink.

Rumors have abounded about the replacement of the rink for several years, particularly following a process about 10 years ago when Charlestown had an opportunity to replace the old rink, but leaders chose to refurbish the existing rink and polish it up.

That has been done in recent years, and the DCR this week said they have invested more than $2.7 million into the EHO over the last five years, including a new refrigeration system, a de-humidification system, dasher boards and glass – not to mention extensive repairs to the roof that are ongoing right now.

That said, there also seems to be a crossroads coming to examine the long-term future of the rink and its location in Charlestown – as was done also some 10 years ago under former State Rep. Gene O’Flaherty.

The forum for the conversation this time around seems to have been cemented within a study coming by the DCR via an earmark secured by State Rep. Dan Ryan this year’s budget.

The DCR said following a $50,000 earmark that was included in the DCR’s Fiscal Year 2019 operating budget to study the Department’s properties and land within the Charlestown neighborhood, the agency is currently conducting the review, which is expected to be completed later this year.

Ryan said he did get the earmark for the purpose of looking at all the property, specifically in the Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue areas. However, he said it would only make sense to revisit the long-term viability of the EHO within that conversation.

“I did secure money in this year’s state budget to study the DCR land in Charlestown, as it pertains to the future of the Rutherford Avenue corridor,” he said. “This money was not secured specifically with the rink in mind. Rather, the line item was written more to study the future accessibility to our state owned parks and recreation facilities while our roads and bridges are being transformed. My hope is, this money will also serve as a catalyst for a broader discussion of not just DCR land; but, all of the government owned property in this corridor and to plan for our future accordingly. 

“The rink could certainly be part of that conversation,” he continued. “I’m not aware of any current plans for that structure; other than the privatization conversations that occurred many years ago, and were shelved.”

The earmark does include language about the rink, but also other DCR properties, reading that “not less than $50,000 shall be expended to the DCR to conduct a study to determine proper, safe and realistic land uses for DCR land in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston, including but not limited to: Paul Revere Park, City Square Park, and the Emmons, Horrigan, O’Neil Skating Rink.”

By no means is anybody suggesting around the Town that the rink is going to be bulldozed tomorrow in favor of condos, but many believe something is in the works.

Persistent rumors have floated around over the past year – including one that has MassPort and Suffolk University working to build a new rink on state land on the Medford Street corridor. That rumor seems to be unfounded at the moment. Another such story that was floated last summer had a City/State land-swap happening with Bunker Hill Community College.

Last week, Neighborhood Council member Tera Lally brought the matter up at the CNC meeting to Boston Planning and Development Agency staffer Chris Breen, who didn’t seem to have much information.

Lally said she was reacting to rumors, and she did not want the current rink to be torn down and leave local youth hockey players getting second dibs on a rink.

Ryan – who recalled playing hockey at EHO when it was an outdoor rink – said he had heard the rumors, but the only thing brewing is a potential conversation, which he believes goes hand-in-hand with a conversation about the DCR land along Rutherford Avenue.

“In reality, we are probably 10 years away from any serious development at that end of the corridor anyway,” he said. “Who knows what shape the rink will be in then? The important thing right now is to continue to provide a quality facility for our local skaters currently using it. Any future plans would only occur with the consent and inclusion of the neighborhood programs housed at that facility.”      

For those close to the rink, one of the keys, sources said, is to ensure the affordability of the facility for all families in the Town. Right now, prices are pretty favorable at the state facility, and the upgrades have made it a much-better facility. The nervousness over a new facility, even down the road, would be that rental prices would increase and thus make hockey and skating programs unaffordable for many families.

Ensuring that, of course, would require great advocacy during the planning stages.

Ryan said he hopes to make certain that all voices are heard as the planning process plays out, and that includes voices regarding the rink and all other state-owned land in the Town. Though few realize it, Charlestown has one of the largest amounts of government-owned land by percentage in the city.

“A comprehensive planning and/or visioning session is the logical next step,” said Ryan. “There are a lot of moving pieces that need to be catered to right now. Road reconfigurations and development projects, that are already in the building stage, are demanding a lot of the community’s attention. We cannot continue to allow development to happen one parcel at a time. I do believe there is energy, resources and the will to do some community planning even as some of these other projects are moving forward.”

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