BOWIE – New construction in the city once again led to passionate disagreement at the Bowie City Council meeting. On the Sept. 6 agenda was a resolution to select Hill International as the project manager for the new indoor sports facility planned for completion in 2020. The Washington, D.C.-based company was selected by city staff […]
BOWIE – New construction in the city once again led to passionate disagreement at the Bowie City Council meeting.
On the Sept. 6 agenda was a resolution to select Hill International as the project manager for the new indoor sports facility planned for completion in 2020. The Washington, D.C.-based company was selected by city staff from among seven that submitted proposals. However, many community members used their testimony to argue that the sports facility plan should be scrapped entirely.
Approximately the same number of residents spoke of their support for the project, which would include five basketball courts with six volleyball courts overlaying them, two ice rinks (one Olympic sized and one NHL sized) and various support and meeting spaces.
The city council was itself divided on the issue, with the resolution passing by a split 6-1 vote, with Councilman Michael Esteve the lone dissenter.
In his vote, Esteve cited the large cost of the project, up to $28 million after debt service, saying this project was “the single largest undertaking in our city’s history.”
“In my opinion, this is an extravagance that we cannot afford right now. And in my opinion, we need to focus on other items,” he said. “I am 100 percent in favor of $1.3 million to fix the existing ice rink (at Allen Pond Park). I think it’s wonderful we offer that. But this $28 million project, not including the maintenance costs – in my opinion it’s a nice-to-have project, it’s not a need-to-have project.”
Residents also said the price tag was too steep for an amenity that many taxpayers, such as seniors, would not benefit from.
“All of these things sound good, a new ice arena, but I’m not going to utilize it. I don’t have a child who’s going to utilize it, but I’m going to have to pay for it. And I’m just wondering how many people from Bowie are going to benefit from this?” said Margaret Nelson, a resident of Bowie.
Supporters of the project said it encourages healthy lifestyles for children and young adults and could keep them away from less-savory activities. They also said upgraded facilities would allow for higher user fees and, in the words of resident Nicholas Peterson, “provide an economic boost in terms of jobs, new events that we could not currently host.”
“Money that could be coming to us is currently going to places like Montgomery County,” he said.
Residents also said the money being spent for the arena could be used on other necessary projects, like road repairs and sidewalk installations or maintenance on the city’s water and sewer system.
Councilwoman Diane Polangin said water and sewer projects are paid for by a separate enterprise fund, and general fund revenues could not be invested in the system regardless of the arena.
“I think there’s some confusion with the residents about spending this money on water and sewer. I don’t think you know that there’s a separate and distinct pile of money that that comes from. We can’t mix the funds,” she said.
Esteve said there had been discussion with the previous city manager about the possibility of making a loan from the general fund to the water and sewer fund.
He also said the city is currently losing money on its recreation facilities, including the gym and the ice arena that already exist.
But Mayor G. Frederick Robinson said the point of amenities like that isn’t to make money, but to provide safe play areas for the city’s children.
“Somewhere along the line, we started getting the impression that our ball fields and our gyms and whatever are profit-making organizations. They are not. They are designed to provide wholesome, healthy, safe environments for our children to play and to grow,” he said.
Robinson also pointed out that the new ice arena had received unanimous council approval at other steps of the process. Funding has been included in the city’s Capital Improvements Program since fiscal year 2015, including the FY17 one passed unanimously on May 16. The project was delayed because a suitable location for the new facility could not be found, but on June 23, the city recorded a deed to buy property from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission that would provide 20 acres on Church Road.
Esteve said although he previously voted for the arena, he had changed his mind after talking with constituents and looking at city reports.
“I’m new. I got here in November. I’m a new city councilman,” Esteve said. “And one of the things that has happened in the last several months is – as this project’s been talked about more – more and more residents have been asking me questions. I’ve been learning more.”
With the council’s approval of the project manager, the indoor sports facility will move forward. The city plans to hire an engineering and architecture firm in December, which will have construction documents ready by February 2018. Construction would be complete by March 2020. The council will have to vote again to approve the firm selection and then the construction plans and contractor.