In Wellesley, new sports center is worth the wait
WELLESLEY — Communities often dream of creating new indoor athletic facilities to benefit children, adults, and high school teams.
It took the closing of St. James the Great Church — and several years of planning — for such a dream to be realized in Wellesley. Next spring, a sparkling facility is scheduled to open with two ice rinks, two swimming pools, a strength and conditioning center, and a turf field with an elevated track.
The hoped-for December opening of the Wellesley Sports Center was pushed back due to bad weather and the inability to secure gas service to the site, according to the project’s builder, ESG Associates Inc. Non-emergency gas service projects have been delayed by the monthslong lockout of union gas workers by National Grid.
“Natural gas is essential for everything from heating the buildings and hot water to running the dehumidifiers for the ice rinks,” said Brian DeVellis, president of ESG, which will also operate the completed facility.
The new timeline depends upon gas being installed by March 2019, the statement said.
Once the center opens, preferred ice and pool times will be given to the high school, Dana Hall, Wellesley Youth Hockey, and the Wellesley Swim Association. The center will also offer recreational skating and pool times to the public. In addition, the facility will be available to rent to other area organizations and sports groups.
“We’ll be able to change our dinner hours,” said Jennifer Dutton, coach of the girls’ and boys’ swim teams at Wellesley High. “I haven’t been home for dinner for almost 20 years.”
Wellesley’s boys’ and girls’ hockey teams have practiced and played games at nearby Babson College for many years. They had hoped to be the first teams to play in the Wellesley Sports Center this month.
However, the construction delay has forced the teams to seek ice time at other facilities. Wellesley High athletic director John Brown has worked out most of the scheduling with Babson, as well as surrounding facilities.
Once the rinks open, “it will be nice for the players to eliminate 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. practices out of town,” said boys’ hockey coach Paul Donato. “We’re really looking forward to a first-class facility in Wellesley.”
“We’ve practiced all hours of the day,” said Dutton, the swim coach. “It’s pretty amazing something like this can happen in Wellesley.”
“There was a strong need for recreational resources in town,” said Wellesley’s planning director, Michael Zehner. Buying the St. James site was “a unique way for it to happen.”
The Boston archdiocese closed St. James in 2004 and eventually sold the property to the town for $3.8 million, with additional costs for demolition, abatement, and study bringing the total to about $4.5 million, according to town officials. In 2015, the church’s dusty walls came down.
In 2017, the town signed a long-term lease with Wellesley Sports Group LLC, a development team led by DeVellis. ESG is responsible for building, controlling, and operating the facility.
“This complex is an excellent example of what can be done with public/private partnerships,” DeVellis said.
One rink will seat about 1,000 people, which would accommodate the crowds expected when Wellesley High plays archrivals like Needham and Natick.
“I’m excited,” said Brown, anticipating the grand opening. “When it’s done it’s going to be beautiful.”
Dutton, the swim coach, said “I hope things go as planned. Things happen, things pop up some times.” And so they have, not unusual in major building projects.
But the future looks bright. “I’ve spent 10 years of my life on this,” said Andy Wrobel, who was on the planning committee. “I couldn’t be prouder. It’s the legacy we’ll leave behind.”