The Smithfield Municipal Ice Rink
By Ron Scopelliti
A lot of things have come and gone since 1973. It was the year the VHS videotape prototype was completed, the year Skylab was launched, and the year Ford introduced Mustang II. But one thing that arrived in 1973 and managed to stick around is the Smithfield Municipal Ice Rink.
“If we were a car, we’d have an antique plate,” says Ice Rink manager Thomas J. Tullie, who appears to value the rink as if it really were a classic car.
“I think the staff, and the town in general are lucky to have a facility like this,” he says. “There aren’t too many of them around the state.”
Located at 109 Pleasant View Ave., the rink is home ice for the Smithfield Figure Skating Club, the Providence-Pawtucket Figure Skating Club, the Northern Rhode Island Vikings Youth Hockey Program, the Rhode Island Saints Hockey Club, the Smithfield High School Hockey Team, and the Scituate/Woonsocket High School Hockey Team.
The rink also offers public skating hours, public hockey, and public free-style skating. Ice-time can be rented for a wide variety of events, as can the rink’s conference room.
“We’ve had a wedding here,” Tullie says. “There aren’t too many events we can’t host, if you’re into skating.”
Tullie, in his eighteenth year as the rink’s manager, describes the day before his interview with “The Smithfield Times” as a snapshot of the services the rink offers: It was the last day of a girls’ youth hockey tournament, there was a birthday party for a local family, there was a fundraiser for the Smithfield Education Foundation, and there was youth hockey at night.
“So we were open yesterday from 8 a.m. to probably 11:30 p.m.,” he says. The steady stream of rentals is essential to keeping the rink in business.
“We operate off our own revenues,” Tullie says, noting that last year the rink brought in $680,000. The rink, he says has either broken even or retained earnings every year he’s been there.
“We’re open as much as we can be. You can’t sell the ice if the doors are locked.”
The only holidays the rink regularly closes for are Christmas, the Fourth of July, and Easter. They’re even open for half a day on Thanksgiving, to accommodate rental groups who’ve made a tradition of Thanksgiving skating.
“In my time here, we’ve only shut down one time,” says Tullie. “It was for a six-week period in 2014.”
That, he says, was for a total makeover that included new boards and glass, and a new ice surface. But many other improvements have taken place without a major shutdown. These include a total electrical upgrade, paving previously unpaved parts of the parking lot, improving frost protection in the back of the building, and installing a new fire alarm system.
From the ice sheet to the roof, he says, “there’s probably not too much we haven’t touched,” pointing out that the biggest project was the roof.
“Roofs of this commercial grade are not cheap,” Tullie says, “and it took a lot of work from the Finance Office, the Building and Zoning Office, and obviously the guys here in the building to get that project completed.”
Tullie is looking forward to an LED lighting project that’s been okayed by the Town Council. Other improvements currently on the to-do list include a sprinkler system, and a new emergency power generator.
There is also potential for a solar application that has been discussed with the Town Planner and Town Manager, though there are no firm plans.
Looking further into the future, he’d like to someday add amenities to bring the building up to the standards set by newer rinks – items like a foyer, some warm areas for guests, more locker room space, and aesthetic improvements.
“We have plans in place to expand the building, if it’s ever feasible for the town or the rink to do,” Tullie says.
One thing he’d like to expand immediately is the staff. Though it usually numbers around 17, they’re currently a bit short-staffed.
“We’re hoping to get some staff for the high school hockey season coming up,” he says.
Asked what the best aspect of his job is, Tullie says it’s working with the people who come into the building.
“It’s definitely rewarding working for the town, and being able to meet the people in the community, and providing a space where people like to congregate.”
For more information about the Smithfield Municipal Ice Rink, visit www.smithfieldri.com/ice-rink, or call 233-1051.