WESTFIELD, NJ — The temporary ice rink on the basketball courts at Gumbert Park will return in the fall as the Town Council voted 6-3 last month to allow Mayor Shelley Brindle to negotiate a lease with the rink’s operator for the next two winter seasons.
At the June 18 council meeting, Ken Anderson, who owns Union Sports Arena, presented the rink’s plans for the next two seasons, which will include improvements to aesthetics, noise reduction and a possible concession stand.
Anderson said that last season the rink held 145 hours of public skating and more than 13,000 people attended hockey activities, generating $375,000 in revenue, $1,200 of which was donated to skate training aids to Union County for use with adaptive skating sessions.
“The rink usage exceeded our expectations but there are certainly things we can improve,” Anderson told the council. “It was a learning year in many ways.”
The rink will utilize the paved area occupied by four full-length basketball courts in Gumbert Park from Oct. 1 to March 31, Anderson said. The 8.3-acre Gumbert Park is located along the Garwood border on South Chestnut Street; the rink will be located adjacent to North Avenue across the street from ShopRite. The basketball courts sit next to The Lofts apartment-retail complex and The Pointe condominiums in Garwood.
Several residents of The Lofts joined their Westfield neighbors on the north side of the park last year to oppose the rink’s installation at the park. Anderson said residents complained that the temporary rink resembles a “trailer park.” He said the next two seasons will feature various holiday decorations, including holiday lights and inflatable snowmen and custom fencing around the facility.
“The fence can have on it whatever we want, such as winter scenes, since it’s custom screening and will do a reasonable job in hiding what’s behind it in both the front and rear of the facility,” Anderson added.
Signage and banners also will be added that read, “The Westfield Rink,” and a storage trailer will be painted to match a new color scheme.
Anderson said the noise level at the rink will be addressed through “multiple layers” of insulation; a sound curtain will be added to the side of the rink facing North Avenue and the rink itself will be insulated. The food concession stand will be used for the sale of coffee, hot chocolate and other prepared items. No on-site cooking will be allowed.
The rink also plans to make several changes to its programs; the rink will be open during the day Monday through Friday for certain activities and a public session will be added at night during the week. During public sessions, music will be played.
Council members Michael Dardia, Jo Ann Neylan and Doug Stokes voted against the two-season return of the rink; the three had also voted against the initial proposal for the rink last year.
Before the vote, Neylan said that the people in her ward, “have had their rights trampled on and they have suffered greatly from increased noise and traffic.” She added, “I feel that doing it for two years was a total blind side and I don’t think it’s fair.”
Brindle told the council that Anderson’s presentation showed that changes are being made to mitigate issues brought up by residents, saying the lease will be negotiated in good faith.
“A two-year commitment allows the rink to be better neighbors to its surrounding residents,” she said, adding that it will allow Anderson time to mitigate other issues.
Like the council, local residents also have mixed feelings about the outdoor ice rink. Tom Pedas, who lives at The Pointe in Garwood, told the council that his neighboring town was not being treated with respect. He said every resident living within 250 feet of the rink was supposed to have been contacted by the town of Westfield, but that he lives 50 feet away and had not been contacted.
“No one spoke to anyone in Garwood,” he said, adding, “Life during November and December was very hard for us who live nearby.”
Other Westfield residents stated that, while they are not opposed to the rink itself, it should not be built in a residential area.
According to Beth Hornstein, who lives on Plymouth Road, the rink has allowed the Westfield girls ice hockey program to expand.
“Westfield is the only one of a handful of public schools in New Jersey to field a girls ice hockey team, making us a leader.”