Recreation Commission Questions Skate House Usefulness
By Kristen Arute, Hingham Current Staff, September 5, 2020
Hingham Current News File Photo / Kristen Arute
The Recreation Commission discussed the future of the Skate House at 403 East Street during their meeting on Tuesday night. The structure has been a topic of debate ever since Mike Clancy, the Building Commissioner, determined that it was in need of immediate attention. Upon learning of its potential demolition, residents have sent letters and emails describing their emotional attachment to the building and pleading for its preservation.
However, the Recreation Commission who owns the property has been placed in a predicament. "We all love that building," said Recreation Department Director Mark Thorell. "The point here is you can't use it any more. We're trying to create something the public can use." Doing so comes with a hefty price tag, and not doing anything comes at a cost as well.
Several months ago, Fire Chief Steve Murphy was called out to take a look at the structure. "It didn't take him long to see that the building was definitely unsafe," said Chair Vicki Donlan. It was readily apparent that the ceiling could fall in at any time and that the walls were unstable. "He said unequivocally that he would go back and make a report to Mike Clancy that this building was unsafe and needed to come down as soon as possible," Donlan continued. "Don't forget, this was January when this building was found condemned."
It was so severe in fact that Clancy told the Recreation Commission that they needed to put a fence around it within 24 hours otherwise they would be fined $1000 per day. "Now we're nine months later, and a fence is still around this building," said Donlan. "At this point, if an emergency demolition of this building is not found to be the way to go, my feeling is the Rec Commission needs to say then the Town needs to take over the payment of this fence." Donlan captured the crux of the issue when she asked, "Why is the Rec Department still nine months later paying for a fence that we want to take down and that the Town will not allow us to take down?"
Due to the historical nature of the Skate House, the Historical Commission has oversight of the property. During a meeting over the summer, the Commission determined that, although it would be a costly endeavor, a portion of the structure that currently sits in the water could be saved and turned into a shed. A local contractor has provided a quote and a rendering of the final product. The Recreation Commission disagreed though. "We took a vote to say we don't want a shed," Donlan reminded her fellow Commissioners. "We have no use for a shed. We are not going to demolish two-thirds of a building, save 40 feet of a building that is in the water that's no use to us."
The Historical Commission has proposed applying for Greenbush funding which would allow for the eventual reconstruction of the building. However, engineering fees alone would cost over $120,000, and the Rec Commission would lose oversight of the future use of the structure. "Just assume some day there could be another use for this property," explained Donlan, "taking any Greenbush funds, even two cents, would mean that we are then compliant to have the building of their choice where it is."
Clancy is expected to come out with a plan shortly. He may determine that the structure is in need of emergency demolition, or he may decide that it can wait until the demolition delay that was put in place by the Historical Commission expires on February 20, 2021. "The minute Mike speaks, my feeling is we go immediately to the Board of Selectmen and say the Rec Commission is not going to pay for this fence anymore," suggested Donlan. "The Town is standing in the way of this building coming down. If the Town wants to keep the building up, let them pay for (the fence)."
The Recreation Department operates as an enterprise fund meaning they do not receive any tax dollars and only spend what they bring in through user fees. Given that this year has been challenging with regular programming being cancelled due to COVID, their revenues are significantly lower that previous years. To date the Department has spent $1500 on the fence and will be spending an additional $1800 unless something is done. "To me this just seems irrational," said Donlan. "A building that was condemned in January, and nobody seems to want to take it down. It's either an unsafe building or it isn't."
"I would just add like it makes no sense to preserve a building for which there's hardly been any skating days in the last three to five years," added Nandita Scott. "I think if we are going to develop a building there, I think it should be probably for the potential development of the waterfront which would then have a different use and a different type of building." The Skate House currently sits on close to 9 acres of land owned by the Town of Hingham, most of which is comprised of Turkey Hill Run Pond. "To spend that much money on something, it has to be something more useful than a warming shed for a lake that doesn't freeze," Scott continued.
Donlan proposed drafting a letter that would be signed by all members of the Commission and submitted to the Board of Selectmen asking that either the fence be taken down or the Town take over the payments of it. "If they're telling us that the building is not unsafe and it doesn't need to come down, why is there a fence around it?" asked Donlan. "It's either an emergency demolition or it isn't."
Recreation Commission members:
Vicki Donlan, Chair
Bruce Thompson, Vice Chair
Adrienne Ramsey, Secretary
Historical Commission members:
Board of Selectmen members: