D.C.’s public skating rink, the Fort Dupont Ice Arena, was supposed to close for renovations after this weekend — but then operators found out how much the revamp was going to cost.
According to a release from the Friends of the Fort Dupont Ice Arena, two weeks ago the group received notice that the renovations for the new rink would cost $37.5 million. In 2013, when the plan was originally floated, the cost was estimated at $15 million and included adding another sheet of ice; that idea was nixed several years later. As recently as September 2021, the city budgeted for the arena renovations to be just over $31 million.
Friends of the Fort Dupont Ice Arena, the nonprofit that has operated the Southeast D.C. ice rink for 26 years, signed a memorandum of understanding with the District in 2019 to finalize the terms under which the city would build a new two-rink arena.
It said the city’s latest plan would double the construction budget — even though the scope of the project was narrowed from two rinks to one — and could take twice as long to build.
“This latest action by the city compels Fort Dupont to notify the District that it has breached the terms” of the memorandum of understanding, the group wrote in a Feb. 22 letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser. “Fort Dupont cannot support or justify this proposed use of taxpayers’ money. The District is planning half the project for double its original cost.”
The letter also stated that the group was given very little information about what the specific costs were and that the current timeline told to them by the city was a “best guess” of 27 months, far exceeding previous estimates.
“As a result, we will not agree to the city’s current plan to demolish our building next month. We have no confidence that the city will actually replace the rink, and we can’t risk that for the children we serve,” the letter said.
“That’s been the biggest concern, like, OK, if we do go ahead and say, ‘Yeah, go ahead and knock the building down,’ that a new building may not be built,” Friends board member Tomeka Gueory told WTOP.
Gueory said the group just wants a seat at the table to develop a better plan to fix the 46-year-old facility.
Murry Gunty, the board chairman of Friends of Fort Dupont Ice Arena, owns several rinks through Black Bear Sports Group Inc.
“Gunty and several other board members, they have the expertise, they know how much it’s going to cost to build a rink and belong in the process. I think it would save the city a lot of headaches, because you actually have an expert who can give you solid suggestions on what you can do to build something that’s more affordable.” said Gueory.
In a statement, the D.C. Department of General Services, which runs construction and planning management, said building costs have risen in the past few years.
“The Department of General Services is committed to developing a new ice arena in Ward 7 that residents will be able to enjoy. Vendors that come in at a higher price for construction projects is a normal part of the process in real estate development, and it is up to our Capital Construction Services team to negotiate these costs down,” the department told WTOP in a statement. “DGS made it clear to the Friends of the Fort Dupont Ice Arena as far back as 2020 that the budget allowed for one rink at the arena rather than two rinks in the project scope.”
To raise awareness of the issue, the Friends group has encouraged kids and parents who use the arena to send hockey pucks to city leaders.
“Folks have written letters to both to the Honorable Mayor Muriel Bowser as well as [Ward 7 Council Member] Vincent Gray,” Gueory said. “So just to give them their personal testimony, because it’s always best to hear from the people being served and in this case, it’s our children.”