FCPA briefs public on updated Mount Vernon Rec Center renovation plans
At the recommendation of Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) officials presented their updated renovation plans for the Mount Vernon Rec Center to the general public at a May 4 information briefing at Bucknell Elementary School.
The project, originally scheduled to kick off in a phased process last summer, got delayed due to pandemic-related price increases. Faced with continued supply chain issues affecting the complex construction phases, a shortfall of over $20 million in bond funding, and the potential failure of key systems at the existing facility, FCPA board members approved a staff recommendation to fully close the rec center at the end of this year for a two-year overhaul.
Describing the decision as “regrettable,” Storck said the FCPA board had nonetheless determined that this was the only way to reduce construction costs without substantially downgrading the original project plans. “Building a lesser facility was not acceptable to me or them,” he said.
FCPA staff weighed five different options before making the recommendation to fully close the facility for two years. One of the options, eliminating the construction of a second ice rink, would have required a project redesign and ended up being more costly, said park authority officials. Other options, including phased construction approaches or stopping the project entirely, would have incurred additional rental costs or posed safety or operational risks, such as failure of the facility’s roof or switchgear. In the end, officials decided that the complete shutdown of the rec center was the least risky option and would provide potential cost savings over a phased renovation approach. FCPA plans to cover the project’s funding shortfall by reallocating funds from future voter-approved park bonds projects.
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FCPA acknowledged that there were two downsides to the complete shutdown. One is a $1.3 million net loss in operating budget based on 24 months of being closed and continuing to incur staff expenses while employees are temporarily transferred to other facilities. The other con is the impact of the shutdown on customers and staff.
To mitigate the personal impact, the park authority announced plans to reassign merit staff, help seasonal employees try to find positions at other park facilities, allow passholders to use services at other rec centers, expand operating hours at the George Washington (GW) Rec Center, offer prorated refunds and provide “concierge services” for finding alternative programs. FCPA officials also are planning to temporarily transfer swim programs to GW and Lee Rec Centers, move land-based fitness classes to Lee Rec and local schools, and explore partnerships with local ice rinks to provide group lessons, hockey and other skating opportunities.
Some community members expressed dismay with FCPA’s shutdown decision, asking why passholders and other members of the general public hadn’t previously been engaged to discuss the revised renovation options. Others bemoaned that the public meeting had been “sprung on us at the last minute,” wondered why the second ice rink was needed and expressed concern that the center might lose long-term business to other locations.
Shutting down for two years will “disrupt the life and fabric of the community,” said one area resident.
Defending the decision to construct a second sheet of ice, representatives of the Northern Virginia Ice Dogs youth hockey club said there is enough local demand for the rink and that the rec center’s facilities are less pricey than other skating locales. They expressed support for the FCPA’s two-year shutdown plans.
“There may be many ways to skin the cat, but from an economic perspective, there’s only one way,” said an Ice Dog representative.
Under the updated renovation plan, FCPA anticipates closing the rec center in January 2023 and reopening in January 2025. Besides featuring a second rink, the facility will have a two-story fitness center, multi-purpose areas, and pool and building upgrades.