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Peter’s Take: Community Pools Yes, Aquatics Center No

by Peter Rousselot March 31, 2016 at 11:45 am 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Last week’s ARLnow.com story about a recent Arlington County survey has reignited a multi-year debate over the wisdom of building an Aquatics Center at Long Bridge Park.

For reasons I have outlined in multiple prior columns, that particular Aquatics Center — a facility that is likely to cost much more than $80 million to build and at least $4 million a year to operate — is a foolish waste of taxpayer dollars. This is especially true given the:

  • vastly changed economic circumstances since this project was first conceived, and
  • new competing demands over the next ten years.

Background

From January 2015 until today, the supporters of the original Aquatics Center design have pursued one failed attempt after another to find partners who would help pay for part of the cost of this palatial facility. First, they hoped that the D.C. metro area would get the Summer Olympics. D.C. lost out. Then, they tried to interest Alexandria in a partnership at Long Bridge. Instead, Alexandria is focusing on improving its own existing Chinquapin facility. Now, Arlington is rumored to be wooing local colleges and universities — with nothing yet to show for it.

While all these fruitless efforts were underway, Fairfax County has turned to a private development consortium to build Fairfax’s mega sports-fitness-wellness complex in Springfield.

Discussion

Arlington has spent 15 months focused on trying to salvage as much as possible of the original Aquatics Center design.

It’s time to stop trying to do that.

Far too much County staff time and resources already have been spent on this 15-month quest. Instead, the County Board should direct staff to use the valuable information obtained from the responses to portions of the new survey to produce a bottoms-up new design for a sensible community pool and fitness facility at Long Bridge Park — and potentially other South Arlington locations as well. The Board should provide staff with a budget ceiling for these new initiatives.

Looking for appropriate models for the features that might be included in a sensible community pool and fitness center at Long Bridge Park? Why not start by investigating this suggestion from one commenter to last week’s ARLnow.com story:

I think we need something similar to the Lee District Rec Center in Fairfax County. It has a nice, 50m pool, a big gym, exercise rooms, and weight lifting areas. Simple, but it provides a lot of services to the community. I remember seeing that Fairfax has built new rec centers for ~$24M. If we need more pools, build onto rec centers. Some rec centers (e.g. Barcroft) have room for a pool.

More details on the facilities available at the Lee District Rec Center are here.

Conclusion

Anyone can review the inventory of the facilities available at a location like the Lee District Rec Center, complain that those facilities lack features like Olympic diving platforms or a lazy river, and insist that those features must be added at Long Bridge Park because many people want those features. The County Board should provide staff with a construction budget ceiling substantially less than $80 million at Long Bridge Park. The Board should direct staff to provide as many features as possible so long as the final price is within that ceiling.

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