Authority wants to be among candidates to run Norwich ice rink

Norwich — The Ice Rink Authority wants to be considered "the fourth option" for running the rink as city officials consider three proposals from rink management firms to take over all operations of the financially struggling facility and pay to replace the failed cooling system and related equipment.

Discussion became heated at times Thursday when authority members confronted member and Alderman Mark Bettencourt over the possible lack of support on the City Council for approving an ordinance that would authorize spending $680,000 to replace the failed chiller unit and other equipment at the rink.

The city received three proposals from rink management firms on Tuesday, all of which included offers to pay for the new cooling system in exchange for longer lease terms.

Authority Chairman and City Council President Pro Tempore Francois "Pete" Desaulniers said the authority should be considered as the fourth option for running the rink with the new chiller. Others quickly agreed and pointed to recent revenue figures that show the rink has brought in $629,000 from early October - when the rink reopened after a six-month shutdown - through April.

That figure is comparable to or higher than projected revenues from some of the management firm proposals.

Bettencourt said there is a lack of confidence among some council members in the authority's ability to continue operating the rink. He cited recent issues as well as the longer history marked by deficits, failure to properly maintain the equipment and failure to set aside money for maintenance and capital improvements.

Desaulniers said he would urge the council to approve the ordinance, arguing that none of the money would have to be spent immediately. He said approval would allow the city to go out to bid immediately to get final costs for replacing the cooling system to compare the authority's management plan with the outside firms.

Bettencourt agreed to submit a resolution to the council at Monday's meeting that would mandate that no money be spent until city officials decide on a rink management option.

"We want to be able to make our own presentation," authority member JoAnn Beguhl said.

Left unclear during Thursday's meeting was the question of who would review the three management firms - and potentially the authority's own proposal - if the rink authority entered the competition itself.

Desaulniers said a meeting is being set up between the authority, Mayor Deberey Hinchey, city attorneys, finance and purchasing officials to review legal issues and questions concerning the city's previous bonding involving the rink's construction. The meeting likely will be held next week but is not yet scheduled, Desaulniers said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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