Going with an in-town facility that had middle-of-the-pack rental rates in a no-bid contract, Ridgefield Public Schools have agreed to a five-year deal that will pay roughly $90,000 a year to the Winter Garden Ice Area to provide ice time to Ridgefield High School’s hockey program.

In the name of transparency, the school administration raised the issue of the no-bid procedure at the last Board of Education meeting, giving board members a chance to ask that the five-year contract renewal be rescinded and re-bid with a new “request for proposals” or “RFP” if board members were uncomfortable with the decision or the process. No motion was made.

“That was our mistake,” Superintendent of Schools Susie DaSilva told the Board’s Sept. 29 meeting.

“Given the amount of money of the contract, it should have gone through the RFP process. It did not,” she said.

“We continue to believe Winter Garden meets our student-athletes needs, and our families’ needs, best.”

The contract renewal with Winter Garden had been approved on a 7-1 vote at the board’s Sept. 14 meeting, but the deviation from the standard bidding procedure had not been discussed then — so Da Silva made a point of raising the issue at the next meeting, Sept. 29.

“... Theoretically that should have gone through an RFP process, or a waiver,” she said.

As for the contract itself, Athletics Director Dane Street said the five-year agreement that provides ice time, split evenly between the RHS boys’ and girls’ varsity ice hockey teams. It runs from Nov.15, 2020, to March 31, 2025.

“This is essentially a renewal of the agreement that has been in place for the past five years,” Street said. “It guarantees 173.5 hours of ice time per season to be used by our boys’ and girls’ ice hockey programs.

“The new rental rate is $90,882.77 this season with a 3 percent increase for subsequent seasons,” Street said. “This is approximately a 10 percent reduced rate from their standard hourly rate. The rental rate for the last year of the recently expired contract was $88,236 for the season ($508.57/hour).”

Comparables

The rate the school system is paying goes up to $524 an hour in the new contract, which is sort of mid-range for what schools in the area are paying for ice time, according to a “comparables sheet” produced by the school administration.

“The comparables did show there are four teams in the FCIAC that do have lower hourly rates for ice — only one significantly lower, and that’s West Hill in Stamford, their rink is owned by the City of Stamford,” Street said.

“The rents are fairly comparable. There are five programs in the league that pay more than we do. It’s not like we are an outlier in those numbers.”

The analysis by the school administration said Winter Garden’s hourly rate for the ice time for the Ridgefield High School hockey program is $524 an hour — less than the $576 charged to the general public for non-school uses of the ice.

A “comparables sheet” from the administration’s analysis showed the hourly rental rates charged to high school teams by nine other ice arenas in the area.

The $524 an hour paid by Ridgefield to Winter Garden falls within a range that runs from a high $598 an hour paid by Ludlowe-Ward of Fairfield to play at the Wonderland of Ice to a low of $450 an hour paid by both Darien and New Canaan high schools at the Darien Ice House.

The $480 an hour paid by Staples to skate at the Milford Ice Pavilion was also below the $524 rate Ridgefield is paying at Winter Garden.

But there are also several facilities charging schools more — in addition to the $598 paid by Fairfield’s Ludlowe.

Trumbull High School and St. Joseph’s both pay $540 and hour at SportsCenter of Connecticut. Norwalk and McMahon pay $575 an hour to the SoNo Ice House.

And Wilton High School, which also uses Winter Garden pays $565 an hour there.

Street’s reasons

Athletics Director Street endorsed the Winter Garden arrangement in a memorandum to Superintendent Da Silva and Dawn Norton of the schools’ finance department.

“I recommend approval of the ice rink contract for the following reasons,” Street said.

  “The Winter Garden Ice Arena rate in this contract is comparable/less expensive than most rinks in the area;

 “Winter Garden Ice Arena is in Ridgefield and does not require any transportation expense; for any alternative to Winter Garden Ice Arena transportation would have to be added to the ice time expense;

 “Winter Garden Ice Arena charges an hourly rate for 60 minutes of practice/game time; many other rinks’ ‘hourly rate’ is for 50 minutes;

 “Winter Garden Ice Arena permits the hockey team to practice an additional 20-30 minutes at no charge when the team practices in the morning;

 “Winter Garden Ice Arena provides a dedicated locker room for B&G varsity teams at no charge. Other rinks either cannot offer these amenities or charge a premium (sometimes $7,500+ per locker room/season);

 “Winter Garden Ice Arena provides security as part of our contract. All other FCIAC schools pay an additional charge for security.

 “There are other potential customers (including other high school hockey teams) willing to pay for the ice time allocated to the Ridgefield High School hockey program at Winter Garden Ice Arena;

 “All rinks are booked one to two years in advance; it would be extremely difficult to find enough ice time at other rinks to accommodate what our programs have become accustomed to;

 “There are reasonable cancellation/termination terms included in the contract in the unfortunate possibility that a season is significantly altered or canceled outright due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns.”

Street offered an explanation of the administration’s analysis of the different rates.

“ ‘Hourly rates’ are either actual rates or the calculated rate based on the way the rink operates,” Street said in an email. “Many rinks charge an ‘hourly’ rate that includes 10 minutes to clean the ice at the conclusion of the session (thus only 50 minutes of actual time on the ice). Our contract for the Winter Garden has always been for full 60-minute sheets of ice.

“Rinks often quote different prices for sheets of ice, depending on time of year, availability, etc. The public rates listed are those given by the rinks for the ice slots we are accustomed to using at the Winter Garden,” he added.

“The Winter Garden is the only rink that provides teams with permanent locker rooms included in the contract. Most rinks do not offer that as an option. Those that do charge annual fees for usage.”