The Mount Vernon RECenter is closing at the end of the month for a two-year, $74 million renovation project.
The nearly four-decade-old recreation center right off Belle View Blvd is set to close at 4 p.m. on Dec. 31 to allow for a massive expansion and renovation.
The plan is to add about 75,000 square feet to the rec center, which is set to include a two-story fitness center, building upgrades, an indoor track, a remodeled pool, and a second “NHL-sized” ice rink. The project is expected to take two years, with a reopening scheduled for the early part of 2025.
The Fairfax County Park Authority’s board officially approved the upgrades to its “oldest and most popular” facility back in March.
The recreation center, which opened in 1974, has had a myriad of problems in recent years, requiring workarounds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in short-term fixes. That includes renting ice chillers and dehumidification systems as well as fixing a failing roof.
While closing the entire facility for two years was a “tough” decision, it was the best option of several the county considered, FCPA director Jai Cole said in a press release:
The decision to close the entire facility for two years was a tough one; but it is the best option when it comes to delivering the most desirable outcome and limiting the impact of the closure on our customers. We have worked very hard to create a schedule that has enabled the facility to remain open for as long as possible prior to construction and to condense the closure period as much. While we understand that the temporary closing is challenging, we very much look forward to delivering a top-notch, state-of-the-art facility that will serve this community well into the future.
The total project is set to cost just over $74.4 million, an 83% increase over the proposed 2021 budget. Last year, county officials set the budget at $40.7 million, but it became clear that number was unrealistic.
According to a May 2022 presentation, bids came in much higher due to supply chain delays, building infrastructure challenges, and “complex construction phasing with market uncertainty.”
Even in the six months since then, the budget has risen again by another $7 million.
“The total project budget is $74,431,381 — an increase of $33.73 million over the original 2021 budget,” FCPA spokesperson Ben Boxer wrote FFXnow in an email. “The cost increase has been driven by ongoing supply chain challenges and inflation. The cost increase is consistent with construction cost increases across the board on all projects.”
The 24-month closing of the facility is also expected to cost the county $1.3 million in revenue.
The additional money needed for the project will come from a reallocation of other bond funds that had been marked for other projects as well as $25 million from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that was provided to the county, per Boxer.
Residents who have countywide rec center memberships will be able to use it to access the county’s eight other eight centers. The George Washington Rec Center near Mount Vernon High School will expand its hours on Jan. 2, 2023 to accommodate the closure of the Mount Vernon center.
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The Fairfax County Park Authority will temporarily shutter the aging Mount Vernon RECenter for two years, starting in early 2023.
The park authority board approved on the move on Wednesday (March 23). The closing will fast track a project to expand and renovate the facility, creating a bigger fitness center and adding a second ice rink.
Failing systems meant the facility needed rental equipment to keep its ice rink operational, which officials say could be costly.
The project was slated to cost $63.2 million to $67.2 million after the park authority received higher-than-expected bids from contractors, putting it $22.5 million to $26.5 million over budget. The FCPA plans to rebid the project this year.
“Due to pandemic-caused supply chain problems and impacts to the construction industry, the lowest apparent bidder submitted a bid price that was $18.2 million higher than the engineers’ estimate,” staff said a planning and development committee meeting report. “The low bid for the entire project was $50.2 million.”
Linwood Gorham, the FCPA Board’s Mount Vernon District representative, said the local hockey community has been understanding and professional about the impending shutdown.
“They’re optimistic because they think they will have two sheets of ice sooner rather than the original plan,” he said.
The Mount Vernon Senior Men hockey club has the ice from 7:15 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. on Sundays, but the group’s organizer, John Kashishian, says his players haven’t discussed alternatives yet.
He told FFXnow that, while the facility is in need of repairs — locker rooms, for example, can flood when it rains — the ice is excellent, and the time is perfect for his players.
“We’ve been around since the early 1970s,” said Del Daigle with the Potomac Senior Men, which plays on Thursdays from 7:15 -8:45 p.m. “We’ve weathered Covid. We’ll weather this.”
The park authority had allocated $40.7 million for the Mount Vernon RECenter upgrades, originally planning to keep it open during construction. But a failed chiller and other complications led staff to reassess their options and recommend the two-year closure.
FCPA Deputy Director Sara Baldwin said money will be redirected from other projects for the renovation, including $16 million from the Audrey Moore RECenter in Annandale. Discussions for an upgrade of that facility, the county’s oldest, are still ongoing.
Those reallocations would have no impact on the schedule to deliver the projects, according to the park authority.
The Fairfax County Park Authority is expected to vote Wednesday (March 23) on a staff proposal that recommended the temporary closing. If approved, the facility would close starting in early 2023, the authority told FFXnow.
Constructed in 1979, the facility’s infrastructure is faltering, but an expansion and renovation could cost over 55% more than planned, with the total project poised to cost $63.2 million to $67.2 million.
“We are very concerned with the systems failing and us having to have an emergency shutdown,” Fairfax County Park Authority Deputy Director Sara Baldwin said.
Some $4.7 million of $40.7 million allocated for the upgrades has already been spent.
The facility currently features a pool, fitness center, and year-round ice rink, popular with youth and adult hockey players. The expansion proposes expanding a fitness area and adding a second sheet of ice designed to NHL standards.
FCPA staff have considered “phased” closures that could last three years or more, among other options, but that could result in millions of dollars in lost revenue each year.
If the center is fully closed in the interim, which could shorten the length of construction, the park authority expects to expand hours at the George Washington RECenter about four miles to the south.
Concerns over repairs, funding voiced
According to a staff presentation during the park authority board’s March 9 meeting, the aging Mount Vernon RECenter, located at 2017 Belle View Boulevard, currently requires frequent repairs and about $4.9 million in critical maintenance needs.
Problems range from a failing roof to a rink dehumidification system that recently crashed as well as a chiller that broke last summer. A rental chiller is currently on a flatbed trailer outside and could cost the authority $200,000 per year.
Linwood Gorham, the board’s Mount Vernon District representative, said the issues facing the rec center signal a long downward spiral for the authority’s finances.
“We need more funding for parks,” he said. “We’re in desperate times moneywise.” Read More