By John J. Tassoni, Jr.
When the Smithfield ice rink was built in 1973, it provided the town with a much- needed place for the high school’s hockey team to play and practice, and for ice skaters to showcase or practice their skills.
Before the rink opened, the hockey team was bused to the Burrillville ice rink for practice in the early morning hours. Parents had to drive the players to the high school in time to board a bus for a 5 a.m. practice. I was on that bus and my parents were among those who had to awaken early on the mornings of practice.
A hockey player’s life became much easier once the rink was constructed in Smithfield.
I also worked at the ice rink for more than 10 years, and saw first-hand its money making potential, as well as its value as an recreational resource.
It seems that now the town is considering selling the ice rink and privatizing it.
Since word got out that this could happen, I have received dozens of phone calls and emails from townspeople and constituents asking my opinion. Is this the right thing to do? My answer is, no.
Selling the ice rink would most likely mean eliminating some activities, and an upcharge on usage and other fees to realize a profit. This is not in the best interest of the town, and the many other towns that use the rink.
Think about the many students who use the rink in addition to the Smithfield High School hockey team – the Bryant University hockey team; Woonsocket and Scituate high school teams; Northern R.I. Vikings youth hockey; R.I. Saints youth hockey; R.I. Sting girls youth hockey; Smithfield’s figure skating club; professional hockey camps, and men’s rental groups that date back over 40 years. All of these students and users will be affected if the rink is sold and privatized.
What the rink’s managers and town officials need to do is develop a strategic plan that will maximize the facility at minimal cost. And there are many ways to do this. For example, fathers and friends built the high school hockey team’s locker room.
And consider these facts:
Privatization would force the cost of ice time to rise. This increase would be the responsibility of the hockey parents.
A private organization could jeopardize community programs that are that currently held at the rink.
The sale will give the town a one-time, lump sum of money, then will create a yearly tax income. The money the town will get from the sale of the rink is minuscule when considering the entire budget for the town.
Not only will the town lose local control of a building that our town built with pride, but will break the hearts of the thousands of hockey players and figure skaters that have used the Smithfield Ice Rink. It would no longer be the home of the Sentinels.
Originally, the concession stand/pro shop and advertising signage were operated by the ice rink’s management, which generated the monies to pay personnel, before being privatized. If we bring these functions back into the mix, it would be a major revenue source for the Recreational Dept. to fund future projects.
As I mentioned, I was one of those kids, who just couldn’t wait to get on the ice to practice or to play for the Sentinels all through my high school years, serving as team captain my senior year. To see the Smithfield ice rink be taken over by a corporation means letting it skate – pardon the pun – out of our control. Do we really want to do that to our beloved Sentinels and the town?