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County Seeks Public Input on Long Bridge Aquatics Center’s Future

Renderings of the future Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health & Fitness FacilityThe delayed and oft-maligned plans for the Long Bridge Aquatics Center are being thrust back into the forefront, and Arlington County is hoping the public can guide its next steps.

On Tuesday the Arlington County Board charged County Manager Barbara Donnellan — and, after June, interim County Manager Mark Schwartz — with undertaking a broad public input process and coming back with recommendations for the aquatics center and the second phase of the Long Bridge Park project in January 2016.

The Board that hears the recommendations and moves forward with the park’s second phase of construction will lack the current chair and vice chair, Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada, who are retiring at the end of the year.

“A lot has changed in Arlington in the years since we began plans to develop Long Bridge Park,” Donnellan said in a press release. “Given budget realities and the changing needs of our community, it makes sense to broadly engage the community in a thoughtful look at options to determine the best path forward.”

The new proposal figures to be significantly scaled down from the previous plans, which were put on hold when construction bids came in well over the project’s $79.2 million budget. Arlington had hoped it could receive funding if the aquatics center were used in the D.C. Olympics in 2024, but the city lost the bid to Boston last year.

With a community facilities study fully under way, reshaping the transit future of Columbia Pike and Crystal City and other efforts, County Board member Vihstadt said “we have a lot on our plate this year” and asked Donnellan if she feels county staff can manage taking on another initiative.

“I think it would irresponsible not to give it one more shot this year,” Donnellan said. “This is a brownfield we have the opportunity to bring forward into a wonderful asset for the community, and I don’t want to lose this opportunity.”

The Board asked if Donnellan could bring forward recommendations by November or December, but Donnellan pushed for January as a timetable.

“I hope it doesn’t drag on forever,” Tejada said.

While it may be scaling back its ambitions, Arlington still has $64 million earmarked for Long Bridge Park. County voters approved $44 million in bond funding toward the park, and developers have chipped in another $20 million as community benefits.

Phase I of the park’s construction is already finished, with turf fields, parking, an esplanade and a rain garden. Arlington has to date spent about $15 million of its $79.2 million budget for Phase II on various work, including rebuilding Long Bridge Drive, engineering services, utilities and soil work.

The outreach process for the park will begin next month, with a “reconstituted” Long Bridge Park Advisory Committee, public surveys and community meetings. The county is also seeking partnerships and/or sponsorships, hoping business interests or other entities can inject more funds into the project.

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