The ice skating rink at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center might be left out in the cold amid a budget crisis.
As the city of Santa Fe tries to plug a projected $100 million budget shortfall in the fiscal year that begins Wednesday, the Parks and Recreation Department is considering keeping the ice skating rink closed or even transforming it into an indoor multipurpose field for soccer and other sports.
“Nobody wants to eliminate services and remove the ice rink, but we do have a financial crisis like we’ve not seen before due to the [coronavirus] pandemic,” John Muñoz, the city’s parks and recreation director, said Monday.
Muñoz emphasized no decisions have been made and that repurposing the ice skating rink, which he said is the section of the Chavez Center that loses the most money, is one of several ideas under consideration. Other options on the table include raising rates and creating a fund to which people could donate money “to keep that wonderful program going,” he said.
Muñoz said the ice rink loses on average $336,000 annually, based on five years of data.
“Obviously, this needs to go to the mayor and to the City Council and other decision-makers, but there’s definitely several ideas about the ice rink,” Muñoz said. “While it’s a wonderful thing — it’s a neat thing to have in New Mexico — it is also very expensive and very costly to maintain.”
The possibility of doing away with the ice skating rink, which is generating stiff opposition from people who routinely used the facility before the pandemic, reflects the difficult and unpopular choices elected officials face due to the financial shock waves created by the pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on the state and global economy.
“We get the financial situation facing the city,” said Tammy Berendzen, president of the Santa Fe Skating Club, which has put on events that have attracted top-flight talent to perform at the rink.
“If the city needs to find a way to save money and they deem the best way to do that is to keep parts of the Chavez Center closed for this year, we’re fine with that,” she said. “But when things can reopen, when it’s safe to do so, when it’s financially feasible to that, we still want a rink in Santa Fe.”
Will Briggs, president of the Santa Fe Hockey Association, said he, too, understood the city’s financial constraints. But even a year-long closure would affect young people and others who participate in less traditional sports in New Mexico, such as hockey, figure skating and curling.
“Santa Fe has turned out a lot of hockey players that have gone on to play Triple-A hockey and some Division III hockey for college,” he said. “It’s definitely given opportunities to kids that have been able to excel at it.”
Muñoz said the city is trying to figure out how to make ends meet right now.
“We’ve looked at different sections throughout the city to see where we can become efficient, where we’re losing the most money, where perhaps there’s different ways of doing things to where we don’t lose as much money,” he said.
While Briggs and Berendzen questioned whether the ice skating rink was the area of the Chavez Center that loses the most money, Muñoz said the numbers show it requires the biggest subsidy from the city.
“The purpose isn’t really to pit one section against another,” he said. “We’re looking at this as objectively as possible.”
Revelations the city is considering keeping the ice skating rink closed or turning it into an indoor multipurpose field, which Muñoz said couldn’t be accomplished amid an unprecedented budget deficit, come as the Parks and Recreation Department prepares to open portions of the Chavez Center under reduced hours July 13.
The recreation center, which has been closed since March because of the pandemic, will open from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays. The facility will remain closed Sundays.
The fitness center will be open, but certain pieces of equipment and areas will be off-limits as part of an effort to maintain a 6-foot separation among patrons. Water fountains will be “taped off as well, so we’re encouraging people to bring in their own water or beverage containers and to take them home with them,” Muñoz said.
The pool will be open but only for lap swimming. The showers will be closed.
“Generally, NMED [the New Mexico Environment Department] has a requirement to shower before using the pool, and they have given us a waiver or changed their process temporarily for that, so people are encouraged strongly to shower at home before and after their swim session,” Muñoz said.
There are no immediate plans to reopen the Fort Marcy or Salvador Perez recreation complexes or Bicentennial Pool. The Salvador Perez Recreation Complex is undergoing a major remodel that is nearing completion.
“Right now, we’re going to start with the Genoveva Chavez Center and work through our processes there,” said Muñoz, who called it a soft opening.