Ice rink in SE faces tough choices if $250,000 cannot be raised

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 2010; 2:52 PM

Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Southeast Washington could be forced to temporarily close if the foundation that runs it cannot come up with $250,000 by May.

The ice arena, the only indoor rink in the District, may have to shut down this summer, substantially cut back on its programs or raise fees to fill the gap in its annual $895,000 budget left when the D.C. Council cut all earmarks from the city's fiscal 2011 budget.

"Closing is an option we don't like," said Kathy Cox, executive director of the Friends of Fort Dupont Ice Arena, the nonprofit foundation that took over operating the rink nearly 15 years ago from the National Park Service. "The worst-case scenario is that we shut for summer and reopen in the fall."

The ice rink is one of many other organizations hurt by the cuts, including Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, the Greater Washington Urban League and Cultural Tourism D.C.

Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), who represents the neighborhood, said, "We could not see giving money out to organizations when city services . . . received cuts across the board."

Alexander called the rink "a hidden treasure in Ward 7," but noted that under new rules for earmarks, no organization could be funded in consecutive years, disqualifying Fort Dupont Ice Arena for city money since it has received annual allocations in the past.

The earmarks also underwent scrutiny after it was discovered that council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) used funds improperly. Barry is now facing corruption charges.

Taking steps to deal without the council's money, Friends of Fort Dupont drew up a "worst-case scenario" budget that closes the gap to about $170,000, Cox said.

The rink would extend its annual 10-week closure for ice maintenance by an additional five weeks, under that scenario. The summer eight-week hockey program would be reduced to day clinics, and the eight-week beginners' skating class would be reduced to four weeks. The ice arena also would be closed Sundays during the summer, discontinuing the public skate that day.

"We are taking a step out on faith that the money is going to come in," Cox said. "If we get nothing between now and May or June, the risk of closing is still there." More operating hours could be cut back and prices for rink time could be raised. The facilities' fees have always been subsidized for community and school groups.

The Kids on Ice program serves 10,000 children from the metropolitan area, including 3,000 kids in summer camps. The program teaches the basics of skating and coaches figure skaters. The Kids on Ice program also has hockey and speed-skating clubs, with donated equipment provided for free.

Cox said the upcoming summer programs would be the hardest hit, but she did not rule out other cuts. Over the summer, demand drops from hockey clubs, like Gonzaga College High School and St. Albans School, which pay for ice time, reducing the amount of money coming into the facility.

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