BOWIE – The Bowie City Council meeting got a little heated Monday during a discussion about the future of the city’s ice rink. With a range of options before them, in the end, the city council narrowly agreed, in a 4-2 vote, to move forward with construction of a facility on Church Road with two […]
BOWIE – The Bowie City Council meeting got a little heated Monday during a discussion about the future of the city’s ice rink.
With a range of options before them, in the end, the city council narrowly agreed, in a 4-2 vote, to move forward with construction of a facility on Church Road with two ice rinks – one NHL sized and one Olympic sized – at a total cost of $24.4 million. The current Capital Improvements Program (CIP) includes $23.7 million for a new indoor sports facility.
Other options on the table included a staff recommendation for a new facility with three new basketball courts and one ice rink for $23 million, a $16 million option to only include new courts in the facility, and a $22 million complete renovation of the city’s existing one-rink ice arena at Allen Pond Park.
Engineer Keith Driscoll with Hughes Group Architects, the firm managing the project, presented details about the various options to the council. He said normally a renovation costs much less than building a new facility, but the issues at the existing facility – which has problems with accessibility, heating and air conditioning, a leaking roof, insufficient insulation and cracks and mold in the wood structure – are too extensive for that to be the case.
“Typically a renovation would be a little bit less expensive, in that you could reuse a lot of the building structure, a lot of the foundation, and there would be substantially reduced site development costs, but in this case, this 27,000 square feet mess of a building really needs to be replaced,” he said.
Councilman Michael Esteve, who made the motion on the two-rink plan, said for him, it came down to economics.
“Right now, we’re losing between $200 and $300 (thousand) on the ice hockey rink, which is lower than the courts ($500-600,000 loss),” he said. “We think that with two ice rinks, even by building the two, we can achieve, through economies of scale and through the unique nature of ice, that it draws people from all over the region, we think that we can actually keep our current operation costs where they are, maybe even reduce them a little bit. So in my mind, if we need to spend $22 million just to keep the existing one rink going, we may as well spend $24 million for two rinks.”
He added that he had had conversations with groups who use the current ice rink about the possibility of doing a sliding increase in rink fees to help recover some more of the costs. And skate supporters at the meeting said they have no qualms paying for the chance to play their sport.
“We’re not asking for anything for free,” Bill Schmidt said. “Ice patrons pay for that facility. My son spent 12 years skating down there. I’ve spent over $10,000 in ice costs. I pay for the facility. I spend $1,000 elsewhere to go play adult hockey because there’s no adult hockey in the city.”
The dissenting votes were Councilman Isaac Trouth and Mayor Pro Tem Henri Gardner, the latter of whom instead wanted to send the issue to voters via a referendum.
Staff determined that the dire state of the 1971 building for the existing rink means the city couldn’t wait for the next regular election and a special election would have had to be called, at a cost of about $48,000.
Gardner said he did not like any of the other options before the council because he felt the city’s recreation needs are so great that nothing but the ambitious five-court and two-rink plan would meet them. That plan, with a minimum cost estimate of $36.6 million, was deemed too expensive.
“To be real, we definitely really need the five courts and two rinks, but I can’t support that, either. I cannot,” he said. “I can’t possibly join in tonight and want to spend that. That’s $36 million.”
Gardner suggested the city look into granting naming rights at the indoor sports facility to a private company in exchange for help with construction costs.
Trouth, meanwhile, touted the benefits of basketball for the city’s youth and felt additional court space should be included in any new sports facility.
“Courts are something that are definitely needed in the community, although the return on investment is not as great,” he said. “The courts do bring forth other amenities as far as development and growth of our residents. This is something where the young residents learn team building, they learn how to interact with one another.”
He supported the three courts and one rink plan for the same reasons the staff did, as outlined by City Manager Alfred Lott earlier in the meeting.
“Both interests would be managed in that people that support or prefer the basketball activities and the ice rink would have a multi-sports facility,” he said. “The area is large enough to build a sports facility of this type or any other type and expand it later on without problem.”
Esteve argued that the same logic would apply to the two-rink facility; that is, the courts could be added later.
The city council was scheduled to debate another controversial measure at Monday’s meeting: a proposal to amend the city’s charter to make it more difficult for voters to recall councilmembers or the mayor. The city requires 25 percent of registered voters in the councilmember’s district (for district representatives) or the city (for those elected at-large) sign a petition in order to trigger a recall election, and shields councilmembers in the last six months of their term from recall. The proposed amendment would have extended that shield to 18 months, add the requirement that those petitioning for recall include a statement of the reason for the petition, and allow elected officials who are recalled to challenge the petition in court.
However, Councilman James Marcos, who was himself the subject of a failed recall petition earlier this year, moved to remove the item from the evening’s agenda, a motion that passed unanimously.