Ice Rink Closed for the Season?

January 06, 1994

Great, just great. Central Maryland finally gets a winter with some real, honest-to-goodness winter weather, and the only outdoor ice skating rink in Anne Arundel County breaks down.

The county-owned ice rink at Quiet Waters Park was shut down Dec. 15 and will probably remain closed for the rest of the winter season, which ends Feb. 28. That's bad news for skaters but even worse news for the county, which not only loses money, but must explain why a $1 million ice rink that is barely three years old is falling apart.

The problem is the steel pipes which carry refrigerant beneath the ice. They have corroded and sprung leaks. The company that built the rink says it does not know why; the design used at Quiet Waters has been used to construct 30 other rinks and there have never been problems before. Meanwhile, the county says it relied on the contractor's expertise and is waiting for it to reveal where the mistake was made and who will pay for it.

Quiet Waters was controversial from the start. With a price tag of $18 million, it is the quintessential symbol of former county executive O. James Lighthizer's reign. With $700 teak benches and $32,000 sculptures, it is a monument to the years when revenues flowed and the county spent them on extravagant public projects. Such projects are out of style now. Yet, for all that fiscal conservatives still carp about Quiet Waters, there is no escaping the fact that it turned out to be quite a beautiful park. Its popularity since it opened in 1990 has been a vindication of sorts for Mr. Lighthizer.

No doubt critics of the former executive are attaching symbolic meaning to the ice rink problems, interpreting them as a sign of an era that valued flash over substance. But arguments about whether the Lighthizer administration was right or wrong about what it did at Quiet Waters are moot at this moment. The relevant questions now are: What went wrong with the ice rink? How can it be fixed? Who is responsible for footing the bill? And what assurances can the county give that something similar won't happen the next time?

Whether local government should be in the business of building expensive recreational facilities is still a point of argument. The idea that what government builds should last more than a few years is not.

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