It was exciting to learn this week that an indoor hockey arena and its viability in the northern Worcester County area will at least be further studied. I view this as a long shot to ever actually being built here, but it was disturbing to see studying the potential facility nearly did not happen.
The Worcester County Commissioners voted 4-3 to approve spending $12,000 for its share of the feasibility study to be conducted on a proposed 6,200-seat indoor ice hockey arena somewhere in Worcester County. With the potential of something of this magnitude, it would seem a no-brainer to at least spend some money to further evaluate it. It was anything but that to at least the three dissenting commissioners, who seemed hung up on details, such as location and traffic, that will be vetted prior to any major decision being made.
Nonetheless, it was impressive to learn Texas-based Hat Trick Consultants thinks enough of the area after seeing it featured on last summer’s Dew Tour coverage that it has already spent the money to study the possibility of building a facility in Worcester County, most likely in the northern end to be close to Ocean City. The study came back favorable and now the county and Maryland Stadium Authority will conduct their own study to confirm its findings as well as look at more information in detail.
Early indications are Ocean City is not excited about this effort because it would directly compete with the convention center. That may well be the case, but there is much more to this than that. There are the new jobs that would come with the proposed facility, the additional recreational opportunities and the potential for retail and residential growth around the arena to consider as well.
The study by Hat Trick addressed what was predicted to be concerns from Ocean City. A question in the “FAQs” section of the study was, “What will happen to the Ocean City Convention Center or Performing Arts Center?”
The answer read, “The arena will bring in new events directly into Worcester County that cannot or will not fit into the existing venues. Due to seasonality of the pro sports franchises, it would also serve as a complement to the existing facilities and provide additional hotel revenue throughout the year. There are plenty of events whose promoters would want to come to Worcester County and tap into the affluent Maryland eastern region.”
The Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) is critical in this process. The MSA has financial stakes in the convention center in Ocean City as well as the civic center in Salisbury. The MSA will be involved in the study phase of this effort and it will surely not back anything that jeopardizes its previous investments. Hopefully, the study will be done sooner than later.
It was not a surprise this week that the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE), which represents all the local boards of education in the state, came out officially to oppose what it calls a “statewide prohibition on starting the school year before Labor Day.”
The association’s press release comes in response to Gov. Larry Hogan throwing his support behind proposed legislation mandating all state schools open after Labor Day weekend. This change is largely frowned upon by education administrators because they like to make their own decisions and the MABE essentially said as much this week and even added some scare tactics.
This week’s press release read, “Maryland’s local boards of education oppose mandating a post-Labor Day start date because it would not adequately reflect local community considerations; considerations which local boards must always balance in favor of advancing student learning. … Maryland’s state officials should continue to respect and defer to these local decisions. For example, under a mandated post-Labor Day start date the 2015-2016 school year would not be allowed to start until Tuesday, September 8th. For most school systems this start-date would be a significant delay in their regular opening dates, and likely result in extending the school year through June of 2016.”
I am not buying that last part about schools being in session as late as July. The school calendar can be tweaked. Just look at what Worcester County, annually among the highest achieving school systems in Maryland, has demonstrated this year.
In recent weeks, the Worcester County Board of Education sent home three calendar options for the next school year. Two of those included post-Labor Day starts while one was before the holiday. Input is being collected on those calendars, but previously the post-Labor Day start was supported.
Over in Wicomico, where schools started the week before the holiday, parents were given two options — one calendar that starts the school year on Monday, Aug. 24 and ends it on Monday, June 6, and another that starts Tuesday, Sept. 8 and ends Monday, June 20. A major difference between the two counties’ approaches was Worcester was willing to shorten the winter break around Christmas and New Year’s while Wicomico said parents want two full weeks off.
The plot is thickening around this important issue. The new governor supports it, but there’s no question this is a divisive issue. I still think it will pass but there will be heavy lobbying against it.