Last month, Arlington County unveiled its latest proposal for an Aquatics Center at Long Bridge Park. The County has dropped a few of the more excessive features from its last public proposal, but only after a firestorm of justified public opposition. The County also has acknowledged that the facility should be “community” focused, highlighting the relative lack of aquatics resources in South Arlington.
The latest Aquatics Center concept presents multiple unanswered questions needing resolution, e.g. who are the most likely users, has the clear demand for aquatics resources been equitably addressed? Fortunately, the County Board need not rush to judgment in the short period until the July adoption of the next CIP. Instead, the Board simply should incorporate into that CIP an appropriate dollar cap on what Arlington should spend on the revised Aquatics Center, permitting several more months of community discussion followed by a fall decision.
A fundamental disconnect remains between the latest Aquatics Center base proposal and the aquatic resources Arlington most needs: community pools
Arlington primarily has followed a model of distributed park and recreation resources, endeavoring equitably to locate such resources within reasonable access of the surrounding neighborhoods. The “community” for the proposed Aquatics Center should be southeast Arlington–with the exception of the 50-meter pool. If a 50-meter pool is indeed needed in Arlington, that pool should be located at this site because we probably don’t have space elsewhere.
Consistent with a southeast Arlington focus, the Aquatics Center should be down-sized by deleting certain elements from the latest base proposal
Assuming that the 50-meter pool is retained, then the 25-meter “leisure” pool at Long Bridge should be dropped because the dollars saved can better be spent for another 25-meter pool in a different South Arlington location.
(Update on 5/13/16 — “A 25-meter pool is not part of the new facility plan as recommended by both the Long Bridge Park Advisory Committee and the County Manager,” says Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish. Responds Rousselot: “The 10,000 square foot second pool being proposed by the County is indeed not precisely described as a ’25 meter pool,’ but instead is described as ‘A multi-purpose pool’ or a ‘Combined Teaching and Family Pool,’ etc. However, the 10,000 square foot size assigned by the County to this second pool was the basis for my rough estimate of $5.7 million potentially saved by the deletion of this second pool at Long Bridge.”)
Using a rough dollar-per-square-foot cost based on County staff’s cost projections, dropping the 25-meter pool could save potentially $5.7 million. In addition, the 10,000 square feet proposed for fitness activities in the latest Aquatics Center base proposal should be reduced to no more than 5,000 square feet, a space much more consistent with the average of 3,000 square feet of fitness areas in most other County community centers. Such a reduction potentially could save an additional $2.9 million.
These two proposed changes could result in a total saving of $8.6 million, reducing the estimated total “low-end” project cost of the Aquatics Center base proposal from $42 million to $33.4 million.
The $8.6 million saved by downsizing the base proposal should be re-allocated as core financing for another community pool and enhanced fitness resources in another, more central South Arlington location
A new community pool and enhanced fitness resources could potentially be located at Gunston or Drew, each recently considered as a site for a new/revised elementary school center. Other South Arlington locations should be investigated.
Arlington should engage in several more months of community discussion, followed by a fall decision, about equitable distribution of fitness and aquatic needs. By reallocating scarce parks capital to a second community pool in south Arlington, we can achieve a “win-win”. Proceeding this way will further more equitable access to our limited parks resources, encourage a more transparent and appropriate cost recovery model, and promote realistic community-focused access.
Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.