WOONSOCKET — In an era of shrinking resources, the city has cut personnel, programs and perks residents have long taken for granted, but one frill that's survived the lean season is the popular municipal ice-skating rink at River Island Park.
Open seven days a week, the artificially-refrigerated rink overlooking the Blackstone River is still free, and even a kid who doesn't own a pair of skates can borrow some from the guy in the snack shed, then lace them up beside the glowing embers of a fire pit.
And to thank for this, Mayor Leo T. Fontaine points the finger of credit not at the thrift of his administration, but two corporate sponsors — Veolia North America and Camp Dresser McKee. Without their donations of $5,000 each, the city might not have been able to keep the rink open this year, he says.
“Learning to skate and sipping hot chocolate by a roaring fire can be and has been a big part of growing up in Woonsocket,” the mayor said.
“And we are all glad to have had another year of this experience for the kids and families of the city.”
Veolia North America runs the city's wastewater treatment plant, while Camp Dresser McKee is an engineering firm with longstanding ties to the city. The mayor formally thanked representatives of both firms during a brief ceremony Wednesday at the rink.
“As good corporate citizens and partners, we appreciate the opportunity to give back to the community,” said Patrick D. Hughes, senior vice president of CDM. “Knowing Woonsocket's rich past with winter sports, we're glad to assist...the rink is a valuable asset to the city's youth and families.”
The city used to spend about $60,000 to keep the rink open from November to April each year, most of it in the form of worker overtime. When the recession struck and city revenues began to shrink, the city stopped paying workers overtime and hired a temp to staff to staff the snack shed. Then things got even worse, and the city scrapped the temp, too.
The city managed to staff the rink this year without incurring any ancillary labor costs by tweaking work schedules and personnel assignments, said Fontaine. But there is still overhead associated with maintaining the rink, most of it for chemicals that keep the ice from melting when temperatures rise above freezing.
Virtually the entire cost of operating the rink have now been passed along to CDM and Veolia.
A permanent sign thanking the companies for their generosity has been erected in front of the rink, which has been in operation since 1999. Along with the Bank of America rink in Providence's Kennedy Square, it's one of the few outdoor municipal rinks in the state that's more than just a pool of frozen water.
Corporate sponsorship for public facilities and programs is a growing trend in cash-strapped cities all over the country, not just in Woonsocket. While CDM and Veolia are identified as donors, cities are increasingly selling “naming rights” to all sorts of facilities to raise operating revenue. Providence has the Dunkin' Donuts Center. The Clark, Texas, town council voted to rename the town DISH in trade for a decade's worth of free satellite TV from the DISH Network. In Newburyport, Mass., the high school is even selling naming rights to the principal's office for $10,000.
Radio station WNRI and the International Brotherhood of Police Officers union chipped in $15,000 to maintain the traditional display of Christmas lights in the mini-park beside City Hall this year.
But Fontaine may have set the tone when he donated $15,000 he raised from ticket sales for his inaugural ball to stage the annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration at World War II Park.
Asked where the money would come from to pay for fireworks this year, Fontaine thought for a minute, then said, “I don't know.”