BOWIE – Following an extensive and passionate public hearing on April 9, the Bowie city council voted to continue with planning a new two-sheet ice rink while investigating options to keep costs down and look for potential sites for new athletic courts.
During this packed public hearing, more than 60 people spoke to express their thoughts on the matter.
The current Bowie ice arena has one sheet of ice and was built in the 1970s. Experts anticipate that in its state, it will not last more than another five years.
The city council previously approved a plan to construct a new facility on Church Road with two ice rinks and five indoor courts. However, city staff later determined that plan would be impractical due to rising costs, proximity to wetlands and that there would not be enough space to accommodate stormwater for the larger facility.
In September, the council directed city staff to develop a plan for a rink with two sheets of ice without the accompanying courts.
That program would include two rinks at 76,700 square feet. A hybrid program would include three courts and one rink at 77,800 square feet, while a combined program would have five courts and two rinks at 131,400 square feet.
The probable construction cost of the plan is more than $24 million dollars.
However, in March, more than 15 residents attended a city council meeting and requested basketball courts be included in construction. Because of this input, the topic returned to the city council for potential reconsideration.
Alfred Lott, the city manager, presented seven feasible courses of action, including canceling the project and maintaining the current rink, proceeding with a plan for five courts and no rinks, proceeding with a plan for two rinks and no courts and referring the decision to referendum or during the 2019 city elections. Lott said the staff’s first recommended option would be to continue with the plan for a two-sheet arena while beginning a project to build three to five basketball courts elsewhere. He said their second preference would be to develop a plan for a facility with one ice rink and three courts.
The supporters of a two-ice sheet facility mentioned that the current sheet is fully utilized and those who cannot find free skate time must leave the city to go to other arenas. They also mentioned people who play ice sports such as figure skating can only perfect their techniques on the ice, and that two sheets of ice will enable them to offer more programs, such as girls’ teams and adult hockey. Another point residents raised was that the arena also attracts participants from outside Bowie, creating the potential for those individuals to support local Bowie businesses and restaurants while they are in the city.
Those in favor of more courts pointed out the current court spaces are overcrowded, and there are often people waiting for a chance to play. Residents participate in various athletics on the courts, including basketball, wrestling and volleyball. When teams move their practices to school gyms, which may be in poor conditions, children are more prone to injuries. Further, they added that only Bowie residents utilize these spaces, and so their tax dollars should go toward a facility their residents enjoy.
Several people said the issue should go to a special election. Other residents also noted the issue has become divisive.
“We need to step up and say, ‘how do we make this work for both of us?” a resident said. “How do we get everyone engaged so we don’t divide the community? We have something very special here in Bowie.”
Mayor Frederick Robinson said the “winner” of the debate throughout public hearing was the children of Bowie, as residents were evidently passionate and invested about providing them with adequate and safe sports facilities.
During the ensuing discussion, the council discussed numerous options for moving forward, including a public-private partnership and examining alternatives, such as “bubbling” the sports facilities, to reduce costs. Council members emphasized that their decision would have to do with fiscal practicality and not prioritizing certain sports above others.
The council agreed they wanted to move forward that night, as delaying the project would cost even more money.
District 1 Councilman Michael Esteve said the income from two ice rinks, rather than just one, could help bring operating costs down to zero and might even produce a profit.
A motion proposed by at-large Councilman James Marcos to move forward with the two ice rinks and to look at the possibility of what can be done to build additional courts elsewhere failed - one vote shy of the necessary four.
District 2 Councilman Dufour Woolfley put forward a motion for the city staff to go forward with the two-rink project and within 60 days return to the council with potential alternatives – such as bubbling the rinks and courts – that could help reduce costs, while also examining possibilities to place new courts. The motion carried with four votes.