Fort Dupont Ice Rink supporters accuse district of mishandling plans for new arena

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Friends board member Patrice Willoughby also accused the city of not involving them in plans for the project despite a written agreement promising such collaboration. She said in an interview that since planning for the new rink began in 2013, her group had to get information about the project from the mayor’s office, DC Council and DGS, the agency responsible for construction. and maintenance of public facilities in the Quartier.

“Every time we receive information, we know the planning has been sidelined,” said Willoughby, a district resident and lobbyist who served on the nonprofit’s board of directors for about eight years. . “We are frustrated on behalf of children and families. It should be obvious.

Instead, the city has plans for a facility that only offers one ice cap, instead of two, and several unnecessary features that have driven the cost of the facility to $37.5 million. — or, on a square-foot basis, about what a luxury skyscraper would cost, Willoughby said. She also said the city hasn’t provided budget documents explaining why the project’s estimate dropped from about $23.1 million in June 2021.

“We don’t know of any recreational rink in the United States that has a cost per square foot at this level,” Willoughby said. The estimated time for construction has also lengthened.

DGS director Keith A. Anderson was unavailable Friday to comment on the draft and was the only person authorized to do so, an agency spokeswoman said. Other city officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the issue, acknowledged that coronavirus-related disruptions had added to the estimated cost of the project, but said said town planners had worked with the contractor to bring them down. They also expressed frustration over criticism from the nonprofit organization weeks before construction began.

“We disagree with their assessment,” a senior DGS official said.

The agency also denied that Friends had been left out of city planning. City officials said representatives of the nonprofit organization had exchanged emails with city planners, attended bi-weekly meetings and been present at public forums regarding plans for the rink.

“They literally attend meetings with us,” an official said, adding that it had been clear since 2020 that only one ice cap would be built. Although city officials also understand the importance of building an arena with two rinks so that the Friends can balance their income with free programs, the current $30 million would not allow for the two rinks. But city officials also said the proposed design would allow for an additional layer of ice to be built in the future.

The official said the city’s commitment to the project is best demonstrated by its plans to move forward, even though the nonprofit failed to deliver on its promise to raise $5 million from private funds and at least $3 million before the inauguration. (The nonprofit has raised $1.3 million.) But the advocacy group’s outspoken opposition could hamper the project.

“I can’t say right now what’s going to happen,” the city official said.

The National Park Service built the skating arena in 1976 as a bicentennial gift to the city, but also left it in disrepair. Skating enthusiasts came together to save the place and formed the non-profit association.

Since renting the site in 1996, the nonprofit Friends has partnered with city schools, offering free skating lessons and hosting programs such as Kids On Ice and skating events. Special Olympics speed skating. The Fort Dupont Cannons, the nation’s oldest minority youth hockey club, call its ice home.

Although the rink serves the entire city, its location has been important to many children and families east of the Anacostia River. More than 60% of children in its programs are black and more than half are girls, Willoughby said.

“It’s the best representation of Washington, DC you’ll ever see: people from all walks of life – kids, families – and you have the richest and poorest parents in the stands watching their kids interact” , Willoughby said. “It really represents what we love about Washington, DC”

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