'A stab in the back'; Parks board chairman furious at college for tearing down skating rink.

AuthorOwen, Paula J.

Byline: Paula J. Owen

FITCHBURG -- After finally receiving approval from the City Council to go to court for a ruling on who actually has control over the Carmelita Landry Arena, Parks Board Chairman Jon A. Riccutti said he felt that Fitchburg State University had stabbed the city in the back when he heard Wednesday the college has already starting tearing apart the skating rink.

The Parks Board waited months for the city to agree to try to take legal steps to stop FSU from demolishing the inside of the Landry Arena and refurbishing it into a non-ice skating facility. But now it seems that it may be too late.

The council voted Tuesday night to give parks commissioners $5,000 to retain special counsel to file for "declaratory and equitable relief'' in Worcester Superior Court to stop the college from demolishing the Landry skating arena until a judge had ruled on the matter.

The city transferred the property to the college in 2007 and the state signed a 99-year lease on behalf of FSU to assume operations of the Wallace Civic Center.

The university then spent $3.1 million renovating it and the Gaetz Arena, which is inside the civic center.

Last year, FSU announced plans to convert the aging Landry Arena, which is across from the civic center entrance, into a year-round recreational facility -- minus the ice.

The college said the 44-year-old Landry Arena has operated at a deficit for years as an ice surface, and needed significant capital investments.

Converting it into an all-season recreational facility and maximizing use of the Gaetz Arena -- situated inside the civic center itself, which also has banquet and meeting rooms and a planetarium -- will preserve the long-term viability of the entire complex, college officials said.

The announcement triggered outrage among local youth and school hockey programs, already feeling the pinch for ice time.

The Parks Board has questioned the legality of the transfer to FSU for years, and Mr. Riccutti said Wednesday he was shocked to find out the college is already demolishing it.

"We think they started today, but they could have been sneaking in -- we don't know,'' Mr. Riccutti said. "They are tearing out hockey boards and the floor and gutted the place.''

He said he believes Mayor Lisa A. Wong dragged her feet on the matter by recommending arbitration with FSU, though he thought the college and the city had started negotiations in good faith.

"It is a stab in the back,'' he said.

"No one knew. It was...

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