Officials at Piney Orchard Ice Arena want to add another rink

John McNamara
Contact Reporterjmcnamara@capgaznews.com

Officials at Piney Orchard Ice Arena are looking to expand.

They want to add a second sheet of ice, and expect to submit preliminary plans to the Anne Arundel County Office of Planning and Zoning by the end of the month.

The project would involve simply adding on to the current facility. At this point, the plans include only a second rink — no bleachers or anything else.

“It’s going to be very simple,” said Gary Cremen, the general manager and hockey director at Piney Orchard. “It’s just going to be a bare-bones sheet of ice.”

According to Cremen, the addition will cost about $3 million.

There’s no need for anything fancy to go along with the second rink, he said, because the current facility already includes a concession stand, a merchandise shop and restrooms.

Some additional locker rooms will have to be added as well. But they’ll go in the back of the original facility in the empty space where the Washington Capitals used to store their equipment. The NHL team used Piney Orchard as their primary practice facility from its opening in 1991 until 2006.

The arena sits on 9 acres of land, so the expansion isn’t expected to have much of an impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

<FZ,1,0,20>“There will be a pretty healthy buffer around everything,” said Tim Harmon, vice president and construction manager of Heffner & Weber, a Linthicum firm that will handle the project.

Harmon estimated that the second rink could be ready for skaters in a little more than a year.

A stakeholders meeting held at the arena on Wednesday night drew about 50 people, all of them connected to the local figure skating or ice hockey communities.

“They were all hockey people or figure skating people and they were all on board,” Cremen said. “They all want to see it (happen) because they’re starving for ice time. We’re completely booked and have zero ice time.”

The lack of available ice time is not unique to Piney Orchard. More and more high schools — public and private — are starting or already have hockey teams. Figure skating remains popular as well, especially among young girls. Interest in both sports will probably spike in the next few weeks during the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The demand for ice time “is pretty crazy right now and it has been for many years,” said Carrie Robertson, manager of the Bowie Ice Arena. “You can see an upswing in the learn-to-skate programs.”

The city of Bowie has approved plans to build a new two-sheet rink near Freeway Airport to replace the current facility which is 40 years old and showing its age.

“There’s a need for it,” she said.

Even with rinks charging $350 to $450 an hour for ice time, Piney Orchard is booked solid from 6 a.m. to midnight every day. There are free-skate sessions (the equivalent of an open gym for skaters), practices, games and tournaments that must be fit into the schedule.

Cremen said he has organizations who have signed five-year contracts for ice time, and he frequently has to turn people away who want to rent his ice for an hour. (It’s actually only 50 minutes because 10 minutes of every hour is devoted to refreshing the ice.)

The various area rink managers try to help each other out, directing the needy to other facilities nearby. The relationship among rink operators is more collaborative than competitive, according to Cremen.

“There’s enough business to spread around to everyone,” he said.

Even though that’s a common practice, it doesn’t solve the problem. A single hockey tournament could feature some games at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel (it has three sheets), plus Piney Orchard and Bowie. The McMullen Hockey Arena in Annapolis is another option. However, in some cases, youth teams in a weekend tournament might play one day at Piney Orchard, Bowie or Laurel and play their next game in Rockville or even Frederick.

Clearly, ice time remains at a premium. And that will continue, even as Bowie and Piney Orchard expand.

“I’m sure we’ll fill up the new rink and and still turn away people,” Cremen said.

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