Press Club

Aquatics Center Could Benefit MS Sufferers

Renderings of the future Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health & Fitness FacilityThe planned Long Bridge Park aquatics center has been the subject of controversy lately — as critics decry its rising projected construction and operating costs.

Why spend more than $80 million building it when Arlington already has three public pools and other pressing needs, critics ask.

But for one Arlington resident, who spoke at Saturday’s County Board meeting, the facility does represent an unmet need in Arlington.

During the meeting’s public comment period, Cynthia Siton told the Board that the facility could serve residents with multiple sclerosis, like herself. She said that the three existing pools are inadequate for MS sufferers because the water temperature is kept too high, forcing her to use Fairfax County pools instead.

“In the summer I find that the pools in the county — the three county pools — the water is too warm,” she said. “Fairfax County pools tend to keep their water cooler, which is very important for people with MS.”

Siton explained the importance of cooler temperatures for MS patients.

“It’s important during exercise to keep the body at a cool temperature,” she said. “That is, also one of the reasons that I favor pool expansion. There are very few exercises that people with MS can engage in because exercise naturally raises the body temperature, bringing on symptoms. Swimming is a way to get exercise and maintain a pretty steady body temperature.”

In response, County Board Chairman Jay Fisette revealed that his own brother had been diagnosed with MS approximately a year and a half ago. Fisette said he understands the dangers of overheating.

“Heat is not healthy for someone with MS, I hadn’t actually thought about that in terms of aquatics or swimming, but it makes complete sense from what I know,” he said.

In addition to an 80-86 degree teaching pool, supporters of the aquatics center point out that it will include a therapy pool that could be used by seniors and other groups that need a more specialized swimming environment than that offered by the three existing county pools, which are located in Arlington’s public high schools.

The Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility project is currently on hold. Earlier this month, Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan ordered her staff to review the costs of the facility and recommend a plan — which could mean downsizing or cancelling the project.

Siton said she hopes for the best.

“My hope is these pools will afford people to swim in environments where they’re comfortable getting in and out of the pool and swimming comfortably in the lanes.”

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