Hockey Coaches Receive FHA Encouragement Following Ice Arena Proposal

Ice hockey, figure skating, theaters on ice, skating programs, and skate clubs are on the list of possibilities Newtown Nighthawks high school hockey coaches are working to make a reality.

Head hockey coach Paul Esposito and goaltender coach Kris Kenny introduced the idea of a Newtown Ice Arena, a project that will cost an estimated $10 million or more, to Fairfield Hills Authority members Monday night.

“Newtown has a rich athletic culture,” Mr Esposito said. “My mission? To see a [skating] facility here in town, and not just hockey … we’re looking for a facility that is a benefit to everybody.”

Mr Kenny also mentioned another use, which has gained popularity in past years: curling, an ice sport that became part of the official Winter Olympics program in 1998. They also mentioned senior skate time, “Mommy Skate” times in the late morning, sled hockey, and events for disabled skaters.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Authority Chairman Thomas Connors said.

They envision the arena being located in Fairfield Hills. The concept, which they originally introduced to the Newtown Parks and Recreation Commission in 2011, would be an 85,000 square foot building similar in size to NYA Sports & Fitness, and is proposed as a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Architect Phil Clark of Claris Construction, who was behind the NYA design and construction, has generated preliminary drawings for the arena, which is in keeping with the large brick and white-pillar style of existing campus structures.

In a November 2013 letter from Mr Esposito to Mr Benson, he explained that through Claris Construction, he and Mr Kenny had drafted plans for the ice arena. Mr Esposito has been teaching in Newtown for 15 years, and serving as the high school hockey head coach for ten. He mentions the “good response” he had received in past years when he proposed the arena to the recreation commission and First Selectman Pat Llodra.

The facility could include an NHL sized “sheet of ice” and seating for 1,200. The arena would also include a “mini studio sized rink” with four curling lanes and other purposes, a connecting lounge, upstairs space for a restaurant, pro shop, locker area, room for sports specific training, classrooms, meeting rooms, party rooms, etc.

The letter states, “Newtown’s population would benefit from this multi-faceted facility as it would provide many sources of recreation for all age levels.”

“We thought it would be a great resource for the town,” Mr Esposito told authority members this week. Since last year, he and Mr Kenny “have come together to move forward with the project,” he said. Both agreed that with the number of players already traveling out of town to find time on the ice, along with the number of students enrolled in the high school program, there is an opportunity to start a hockey program in town.

A local arena would “add tremendous recreation, revenue, employment, and family appeal,” Mr Espisito said.

Mr Kenny added, “Hockey is growing in town.” He mentioned the more than 120 “kids in town that play and have to travel to [Danbury]. We could pull a lot of those kids to a Newtown rink.” Families and players could save on the busing and costly ice rental time.

Any money made at the arena would “go right back into the facility,” the two men explained.

Authority member Ross Carley questioned whether ice time would be booked at a Newtown facility.

“Absolutely,” Mr Kenny responded. The two men said they are hearing interest from coaches at Joel Barlow High School, which serves Easton and Redding, and Masuk High School in Monroe. Mr Kenny also indicated the many people who would use the facility: teams, the public, hockey leagues, and others.

Conversation turned to finances. The cost of constructing the arena would rely on corporate fundraising, for one, which the coaches indicated in a packet the provided to authority members.

Next came their “predicament,” Mr Kenny said. “It’s hard to raise funds without a place to put [the arena].” They would like to tell prospective backers where the arena will be located.

“Once things are in place and we have a site, we can market and will generate funds quickly.”

Chairman Connors did not want to reserve a specific location on campus, which has caused complications in the past, but did say that the authority is working to draft a letter of support that the coaches could show to investors.

Sites mentioned were in the location of Norwalk Hall, which looms near a cluster of single family homes once used by doctors, or in the vicinity of NYA, where a new community center is also slated to stand. Authority member Andrew Willie liked the Norwalk Hall location, which would require razing that structure.

“That’s getting rid of a building,” he said.

Removing the older buildings that cannot be repaired or reused has been the authority’s goal for more than a decade.

Mr Esposito had already met with Director of Economic and Community Development Elizabeth Stocker, and Land Use Agency Director George Benson, who had also looked at the Norwalk Hall site.

Mr Connors called the ice arena concept “a good use of the property.”

Although the authority has given the “green light,” that is only the first step, Mr Connors cautioned.

With a word of advice, FHA member Terry Sagedy suggested that the coaches find a firm to do a feasibility study “to prove this can be done, otherwise it’s a dream, but a great dream.”

Mr Connors said a statement of support would soon come from the authority, “and you can go to work.”


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