If you build it, they will come.
Not that field of dreams, but an ice rink located at the border of Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, two of the few neighborhoods in the city without a permanent, indoor rink. Plans have been in the making for more than 15 years to build the Jackson Square Recreation Center, a 75,000-square-foot, $21.5 million facility that would include a regulation-size ice rink. But funding for the project is still incomplete.
Now facing a tight June deadline, when one of the funding commitments is set to expire unless the plan goes forward, the project is agonizingly close. For the teens advocating for the rink, the campaign to build it has been a practical lesson in civics. For everybody else, the effort raises a bigger question: In an era of plenty in Boston, where poorer residents face getting squeezed out, what does it take to deliver a much-needed neighborhood amenity? The facility — which would also feature an artificial turf field, as well as computer labs, tutoring, and other youth-development activities — was originally planned as part of a larger redevelopment plan for Jackson Square. The Hyde Square Task Force cites stark data: More than 25,000 residents under age 18 — mostly black and Latino — live within 1½ miles of the square. About a third of the families in that area live below the poverty level, and two-thirds don’t participate in organized sports.
Still, the demand for recreational activities in such an underserved area appears to be strong, including the demand for ice skating. Urban Edge, the neighborhood organization that has been leading the redevelopment of Jackson Square for more than a decade, surveyed the community, seeking input on which athletic activities to offer at the rec center, and ice skating came back number one.
Sure, there’s already the outdoor Kelly Rink, behind the Stony Brook T station, but it’s closed most of the year. It was supposed to be a temporary solution after the two ice rinks in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury were shuttered more than 20 years ago by the state because of structural problems.
Urban Edge has engaged hockey professionals with an interest in diversifying the sport to garner support and funding. Olympic gold medalist Mike Eruzione and Graeme Townshend, a former NHL player born in Jamaica who started his career with the Bruins, are both part of the project’s capital committee. “[Townshend] spoke very eloquently about what the opportunity to play hockey meant for him as a kid growing up in public housing in Toronto,” said Frank Shea, CEO of Urban Edge.
The nonprofit now says it’s close to getting to 90 percent of the $21.5 million needed for the project, and estimates a funding gap of about $3 million. The rec center only needs a few more champions, like the Boston Bruins Foundation, which has expressed support for the project but has yet to commit any funds. The project represents an unmatched opportunity to create a new range of athletic opportunities for kids who need them most.