Lack of funds puts Fort Dupont skating rink on thin ice

Antione Kelley, center, circles the rink at Fort Dupot Ice Arena with his classmates during a school visit.
Antione Kelley, center, circles the rink at Fort Dupot Ice Arena with his classmates during a school visit. (Bill O'leary/the Washington Post)
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By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 26, 2010

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, could 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 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 M. 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 group 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 with the financial shortage, Friends of Fort Dupont Ice Arena 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 five weeks under that scenario. The eight-week summer 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 option 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, and prices 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 speedskating clubs, with donated equipment provided free.

Cox said the coming summer programs would be the hardest hit, but she did not rule out other cuts. Over the summer, demand for ice time from hockey clubs, such as Gonzaga College High School and St. Albans School, drops. Such clubs pay for ice time, so that means less money coming into the facility.

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