Cass Rink could be rehabbed soon

David Taber

After years of neglect, the Commonwealth is eager to move forward with the rehabilitation of Roxbury’s Melnea Cass Rink, the Gazette has learned.

The Cass Rink, on the corner of Washington Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Roxbury—also the site of the Melnea Cass pool—is less than a half-mile from Jackson Square. Uncertainty about the Cass’s future has for years been a part of conversations about the proposed construction of a permanent home in Jackson Square for Jamaica Plain’s Kelly ice rink.

Rick Sullivan, head of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), told the Gazette this week that DCR plans in the near future to move to utilize some of the $4.4 million in funding authorized in a 2008 environmental bond bill to redesign the former ice-rink as an indoor recreation facility.

The Cass would not have ice, as it has in the past, but it would be redesigned as a multi-use recreational facility with a gym and possibly a roller skating rink, Sullivan said.

He said DCR will host a community meeting in the coming months to begin a dialogue about what neighborhood residents would like to see at the site.

“Governor [Deval] Patrick and Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz are very committed to investing in the neighborhood. This is an important place for us to bring additional recreational resources,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan’s comments to the Gazette came following a meeting between the DCR head and the senator, he and Chang-Díaz both told the Gazette.

“What we touched on today are what are the options and the fiscal limitations,” Chang-Díaz told the Gazette, talking about her Monday meeting with Sullivan. “The next step is to hold community meetings.”

Afreda Harris, chair of the board that oversees the nearby Shelburne Community Center, told the Gazette that the first of those meetings is scheduled for Jan. 20 at 6 p.m. at the Shelburne. She was guardedly optimistic about the possible work at the Cass. “There have been a million meetings [about rehabbing the rink] but it has never moved forward,” she said. “It would be great to some type of use for young people, especially a roller-skating rink.”

The Cass rink is a half-mile from the proposed site of a new permanent home for Jamaica Plain’s Kelly ice rink. Since 1999, the Kelly has been operating at a “temporary” open-air facility on Marbury Terrace near the Stony Brook T Stop.

The fates of the two rinks were intertwined for years, with advocates for the rehabilitation of the Cass arguing that it did not make sense to build a new ice rink so close to Roxbury rink site, and that available resources should be devoted to the rehabilitation of the Cass.

Last year, then-state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson successfully sponsored amendments to an environmental bond bill authorizing $5.69 million for the Kelly Rink and $4.4 million for the rehabilitation of the Cass.

At the time, Wilkerson characterized the funding authorizations as a compromise intended to end a long-standing feud between Cass and Kelly partisans.

The language in the bill authorizes funding for a “permanent ice skating rink in Jamaica Plain” and for the “construction and rehabilitation of the Melnea Cass rink and pool in Boston as an enclosed public roller-skating rink.”

The question of the Cass has been a sticking point for the Jackson Square Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), a group of JP and Roxbury residents from around Jackson Square charges with offering the Boston Redevelopment Authority with community input for the massive, multi-developer redevelopment of the square.

As recently as a Dec. 1 meeting of the CAC, Chang-Díaz and City Councilor Chuck Turner both said they were not sure whether any conversations had place regarding the rehabilitation of the Cass.

Chang-Diaz represents JP and parts of Roxbury. Turner’s district includes sections of Roxbury bordering Jackson Square, as well as nearby Egleston Square.

At the Dec. 1 meeting—the first attended by the local elected officials—developer Bart Mitchell of Mitchell Properties said he hoped that Chang-Díaz and Turner could “lead us out of a conversation that has been hard to make progress on…If we have political momentum, let’s not fail to make it

beneficial to the Cass site,” he said.

Mitchell Properties is a for-profit developer working on a mixed-use residential and retail development in Jackson Square.

The Kelly Rink project is being undertaken by the non-profit developer Urban Edge. Urban Edge staffers said they are holding off on their rink project for the time being, but they move forward with a four-story residential development with ground-floor community and office space, they said. [See related article.]

Sullivan told the Gazette he has not heard from Urban Edge about plans to seek an appropriation for the $5.69 million authorized in the bond bill for a JP rink.

He said DCR is bullish about the Cass project in part because it will be high-impact and low-cost.

The 2008 bond bill authorizes about $1 billion in projects for the DCR
capital budget over five years. But the department now expects its capital budget over that time period to be about $400 million, Sullivan said.

The DCR director said he could easily see the Cass rehab coming in at less than $4.4 million. DCR would “act as project manager” for the rehabilitation, he said.

Chang-Díaz said she and Sullivan “touched lightly on the Jackson Square development” in their conversation on Monday. But there is “much more work” to be done on the proposed Kelly Rink project before state funding conversations begin in earnest, she said.

The temporary Kelly rink recently received $800,000 in improvements that DCR officials said should keep it running for at least another decade. Gov. Patrick is tentatively scheduled to attend an unveiling of the rehabbed temporary rink tomorrow at 11 a.m.

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