Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) has revived plans to include an ice skating rink and pavilion at the Silver Spring Civic Center and Veterans Plaza site, after those plans were nearly scrapped because of ballooning construction costs.
Under pressure from civic groups and businesses, Duncan told the County Council on Sept. 27 that he plans to add $5.3 million to the county's proposed capital budget to pay for construction of the rink, the pavilion structure above it and other building amenities, raising the total cost of the project to $22 million."To his credit, I think Doug Duncan listened to the concerns that were expressed, and he recognized that this is more than just bricks and mortar," said County Council President Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring), who has advocated retaining the rink and pavilion.
In June, prompted by soaring inflation in the construction industry, county officials began looking for ways to cut costs associated with the project. They talked about doing away with the rink, pavilion and building finishes, such as wood floors in the civic center's Great Hall and tiles on bathroom walls.
The ideas did not sit well with residents.
"Things were really stripped down to meet the budget but stripped to the point there was concern that the building would not wear well," said Jon Lourie, a member of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board. "It was not consistent with a civic building of public stature."
He said the rink and pavilion, which would serve as a concert venue during the summer months, were part of an original promise made to the community by the county executive and County Council in 1998.
In response, the advisory board, the Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce and members of several civic organizations lobbied the county to stick with the original plan.
On Sept. 27, Duncan sent a memo to Perez, detailing his plan to add $5.3 million to the capital budget. The memo said that the money would come from the sale of county-owned land.
"While we have never made a firm commitment on whether to include them or not, the ice rink and pavilion have become important elements of the Silver Spring development strategy," the memo said.
The civic center and plaza are the final pieces of the redevelopment of downtown Silver Spring, which has brought commerce and cultural attractions such as AFI Silver Theatre, Majestic Theatre, Whole Foods, Borders Books & Music, and Courtyard Marriott to the urban district.
The civic center and Veterans Plaza together will sit on 1.5 acres on the corner of Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street. The civic center will include a Great Hall, conference rooms for public gatherings, basement offices for the Round House Theatre, and the headquarters for the Silver Spring Regional Center, which manages downtown redevelopment for the county.
The adjacent Veterans Plaza will memorialize Silver Spring veterans and will include the ice rink and pavilion.
Even with the added money, the current plan still departs from the original concept. Several rooms will be smaller, there will be no permanent stage in the Great Hall, and the civic building will have a catering kitchen rather than a full kitchen, said Gary Stith, director of Silver Spring Regional Services.
But Stith and others say the reductions do not compromise the vision of the public place.
"We didn't eliminate any of the function in the building," Stith said. "We just kind of nipped and tucked here and there to improve the efficiency of the building and cut down on costs."
Perez said he is optimistic that he can persuade his colleagues to approve the additional money in budget deliberations next spring. "But there are no certainties here," he said. "It will compete with everything else on the budget."