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For the past year, the Poolesville Parks Board and Commissioners have been investigating the installation of a synthetic ice rink and working towards a cost share partnership with Montgomery County. At Monday's Commissioner meeting, the project was rejected.
The project originated when a County resident constructed a rink on his property in the Agricultural Reserve, which allows homes but isn’t zoned for public uses. A violation was issued, prompting news stories that spread the dispute around the Country on social media. The publicity led County Executive Isiah Leggett to urge his staff to find a solution.
The County wanted to maintain a location in the Poolesville area, which is difficult because so much of the area is in the Agricultural Reserve. County staff began to focus on the Town of Poolesville due to their ability to control zoning and parkland availability. After several meetings with County and Town officials, an agreement to consider emerged providing that the County would fund the project, and Poolesville would provide the land, ongoing maintenance and liability.
The Poolesville Parks Board and Town staff were tasked to research materials, maintenance, construction costs, and permitting. The Board reached out to several municipalities, who were either testing material or had constructed a synthetic ice rink. The majority of contacts were larger municipalities with onsite supervision and maintenance crews. The interviews concluded that with dozens of surface manufacturers, each one claiming it has the best formula, it was debatable as to which company truly had the best product. The surface is meant to be easier to maintain than real ice, but some products require daily cleaning, spraying once a week with a machine-propelled water-based solution and applying a silicone gel to the surface.
Another problem people have found with the synthetic surface is the wear on skate blades. Typically, skating one or two times on the surface, will require the blades had to be sharpened, which explains why most of the municipalities rented out their own skates and provided sharpening.
Public input was also an important factor. While a few residents did testified in favor, many, including local hockey coaches had doubts on the success of the synthetic surface and preferred real ice. This was also echoed by many other municipalities who stated that while it was a novelty at first, there was a 70% drop off in use by the second year of operations.
During the course of the investigative period, cost estimates were refined and funding options explored. The county staff proposed providing $140,000 toward the project, contingent upon to County Council approval; however, it was estimated that an additional $240,000 would be required for permitting, site preparation, storm water management and the material to construct the rink. The possibility of a $50,000 state bond bill request was discussed; and the Washington Capitals, through the NHL had proposed some type of contribution, but this still left the Town with a substantial amount that its taxpayers would have to fund.
Ultimately, after reviewing the Parks Board's research, cost estimates, both initial and ongoing, and public input, the Commissioners decided to not move forward with the synthetic rink at this time.