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Vihstadt Argues for Another Delay of Long Bridge Park Aquatics Center

County Board member John Vihstadt is renewing his push to delay the construction of the Long Bridge Park aquatics center.

Vihstadt is waging a lonely battle against the oft-postponed project as the county’s budget picture grows increasingly grim. He says the $60 million the county’s set to spend on the new pool would be better spent on building new schools or buying additional park land, particularly considering that Arlington is feeling a financial squeeze at the moment.

Between sending more money to Metro and declining commercial tax revenues, the County Board is facing some challenging headwinds as it nears a final decision this weekend on a new, 10-year plan for construction spending. Vihstadt, the Board’s lone independent who is running for re-election this fall, thinks the 72,000-square-foot pool complex can wait a bit longer.

The project’s skyrocketing costs have convinced the Board to repeatedly adjust its plans it over the years, and Vihstadt made an effort to drive down its cost a key plank of his 2014 bid for office. But he still feels that even the facility’s reduced cost is too much for Arlington to take on right now.

“Times change, circumstances change, and I just don’t think it’s right to go forward on that project,” Vihstadt told ARLnow. “Schools have a higher priority. Parks have a higher priority.”

Yet, just as when he cast the lone vote against the project’s construction last December, Vihstadt appears to be in the minority on that position. His four colleagues on the Board all told ARLnow that they wouldn’t support any effort to postpone the Long Bridge project, even with the county’s money troubles in mind.

“Raising these issues when he first ran for election was an important contribution, because it shifted that narrative to value engineering,” said Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “That success is something John ought to feel he positively contributed to. Now, it’s the responsibility of the rest of us to follow through.”

The pro-pool Board members all point out that the project has been in the works for decades, with the community formally signing off on money for the aquatics center as part of a bond referendum back in 2004, and would fill a void for such a facility in the Crystal City area.

But they also stress that the process of unwinding the work the county’s already done would be so costly as to make the effort pointless. County Manager Mark Schwartz believes that cancelling the county’s existing contract to build the facility would prompt extensive litigation, with financial consequences to follow.

“We cannot simply break the contract,” Board member Libby Garvey wrote in an email. “Likely there would be real financial penalties for us if we did, to say nothing of the damage to our reputation among builders. Companies bidding on our projects in the future would likely add extra cost because we could not be trusted to fulfill our contracts.”

The aquatic center’s proponents also see any move to reverse the Long Bridge decision as one that would send the wrong message to the community, or as an effort to “re-litigate the past,” as Board member Erik Gutshall puts it.

“If you can’t trust our word and the votes of the Board, it’s just inviting an endless cycle of pitting project against project right up to the point the ribbon is cut,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol.

But Vihstadt believes taxpayers would appreciate the Board’s willingness to re-examine its priorities as fiscal realities change. For instance, as debate about amenities to be built for high schoolers at the Career Center site heats up, Vihstadt suggested redirecting some of the Long Bridge money to add a pool at that location instead.

“A pool in a high school… makes more sense than an aquatics center, which is going to be used more heavily by folks outside of Arlington,” Vihstadt said.

Gutshall believes such an idea could’ve been viable if it was proposed “five or 10 years ago,” but he feels the county is too far down the current path to consider that sort of plan now.

“Where do we draw the line and say, ‘Enough is enough’ when it comes to replaying this sort of debate?” Gutshall said.

Democratic nominee Matt de Ferranti is eager to provide a contrasting view in that discussion as part of his bid against Vihstadt.

“We should not only study things forever,” de Ferranti said. “Eventually we have to act with courage and conviction to improve the community… and with a reduced cost, it’s the right thing to do to move forward.”

Yet Vihstadt argues that his obstinance on the subject is the just sort of thing that helped him win in the first place — and a clear demonstration of the independent streak he brings to the Board.

“We have to scour things, ask questions and, on occasion, say ‘No’ or hit the pause button and say ‘Not now,'” Vihstadt said. “I think a lot of people appreciate the constructive attitude I’ve had to ask questions and not just nod my head.”

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Morning Notes

Fight Over Aquatics Center Operation Costs — Local budget hawks are worried that operating costs of the new Long Bridge Aquatics Center may take a chunk out of the county budget. The current staff estimate is about $1 million per year of net taxpayer support for operating costs, with a caveat that there may be a ramp-up period with less revenue and thus net higher costs. [InsideNova]

Arlington Honors ‘Fast Four’ Companies — Arlington County on Wednesday honored the fastest-growing local companies in four revenue categories. The companies honored were: Courthouse-based Mind Body Health, digital marketing company Knucklepuck, Ballston-based Deep Learning Analytics and another Ballston tech-oriented company, Apogee Research. [Arlington County]

Eastern Foundry Expanding Again — Arlington-based startup incubator Eastern Foundry is working with investors to launch Global Foundry, which will “provide international companies entrée to U.S. commercial and government markets, while exposing potential American customers to the innovation taking place overseas.” [Washington Business Journal]

Flickr pool photo by Eric

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Aquatic Center Design Finalists to be Unveiled

The county soon will let the public see its four design concept finalists for the new Long Bridge Park Aquatic and Fitness Center and park expansion.

The designs will be unveiled at an event on Thursday, Oct. 19 from 7-10 p.m. at 2011 Crystal Drive, on the 11th floor.

Visitors can watch presentations, ask questions and give feedback about the concepts. Refreshments will be served and free underground parking is available.

Anyone who can’t attend the unveiling event can give feedback online or at Courthouse Plaza (2100 Clarendon Blvd.) from Oct. 19-27.

Earlier this year, the county announced it would move forward with the $63+ million aquatic center and park expansion project after years of delays, which were largely caused by cost concerns. Phase one of the Long Bridge Park project was completed in 2011.

Disclosure: Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation is an ARLnow.com advertiser

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Morning Notes

Free Donuts Today — Today, June 2, is National Donut Day. To celebrate, Dunkin’ Donuts and Duck Donuts are offering a free donut with the purchase of any beverage. Sugar Shack is offering a free donut for those who wear a Sugar Shack hat, t-shirt or other article of clothing with the company logo. [Dunkin’ Donuts, Duck Donuts, Facebook]

Stabbing on Columbia Pike — Arlington County Police are investigating a stabbing that occurred near the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Rolfe Street early this morning. The victim suffered non-life-threatening injuries. [Fox 5, WJLA, ACPD]

Owner Wants Out of Ray’s Hell Burger Lease — Michael Landrum, owner of Ray’s the Steaks and Ray’s Hell Burger, wants out of the Hell Burger lease at 1650 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. The restaurant closed and went on “hiatus” last month. Landrum’s company owes the landlord just over $300,000, according to a bankruptcy filing. [Washington Business Journal]

Why Arlington and Alexandria Couldn’t Collaborate on a Pool — Sharing the costs of an indoor aquatics center seemed like a good idea in theory, but ultimately those in Alexandria did not like the idea of using their taxpayer dollars to build a pool in Arlington. Now Arlington’s planned Long Bridge aquatics center is moving forward while Alexandria’s plans to build an indoor pool are on hold. [Washington Post]

New Tenants to the Rescue in Courthouse — “Adding Reston-based VideoBlocks to its tenant roster was a good get for the owners of Courthouse Tower, but as it turns out, the lease was part of a larger plan to avoid letting about three quarters of the building’s office space go dark.” [Washington Business Journal]

Metro ‘Prepares for Life After SafeTrack’ — We’re a day and a half into June and there have been no major Metro service disruptions so far, something the transit agency hopes is the norm. From a press release: “As the yearlong SafeTrack program winds down, Metro is preparing for a new era of less disruptive preventive maintenance and planned capital work to ensure that the rail system remains in a reliable state for years to come.” [WMATA]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Morning Notes

Vihstadt Wants Ads Atop Aquatics Center — County government could raise some extra money by placing corporate logos atop the future Long Bridge Park aquatics center, which could be seen by those flying in and out of Reagan National Airport, says County Board member John Vihstadt. He is also pushing the idea of ads on ART buses, transit stops and Capital Bikeshare stations. [InsideNova]

Pupatella Named Best Pizza in Va. — The expanding Pupatella Pizza has been named the best pizza in Virginia again, this time by USA Today. The Bluemont pizzeria will celebrate its seventh anniversary on Saturday. [USA Today]

Plaudits for The Bartlett — The Bartlett, an amenity-filled, 699-unit apartment tower in Pentagon City, has been named the year’s best residential project by the Washington Business Journal. The building, the design of which was “inspired by buildings in New York City,” leased up so quickly that plans for a “pop-up hotel” utilizing vacant units had to be pulled back. [Washington Business Journal]

Pebley Recognized for Civic Leadership — Jim Pebley was honored with a resolution of thanks from the Arlington County Republican Committee this past Wednesday. Pebley, who never ran for office but has a long resume of civic service in Arlington, is retiring to North Carolina this summer. “It is safe to say Jim Pebley is one of the most active citizens in Arlington, and has been for decades,” said one well-wisher. “[He is] extremely well-respected across the political spectrum.” [InsideNova]

Condo Resident Opposes VRE Expansion — In a WaPo op-ed, a condo resident who lives next to the VRE station in Crystal City says he opposes the planned expansion of the station because it will “will mar our precious green space” and “derail the lives of Crystal City residents through more noise and possible destruction of property during station construction.” [Washington Post]

Nearby: Threats to Falls Church Abortion Clinic — A building housing an abortion clinic in Falls Church was evacuated twice yesterday due to perceived threats. In the first instance, someone set off fireworks in the building’s elevator; in the second, someone stamped the word “bomb” on pieces of paper found near the rear entrance. An Arlington County Police K-9 unit assisted with the investigation “because F.C. police’s own K-9 unit is still in training.” [Falls Church News-Press, DCist]

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Morning Notes

Post-rainstorm summertime sunrise while driving (Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick)

Arts Truck, Grants Approved — The Arlington County Board last night approved $215,810 in grants to local arts organizations and nearly $70,000 for the purchase and deployment of a new mobile art studio. [Arlington County]

Snow Plowing Policy Change — Starting this winter, Arlington County will plow residential streets at the outset of snowstorms, reversing its previous policy of only focusing on major arterial routes before moving on to residential streets after the snow stops and major roads are clear. [InsideNova]

Ballston Mall Redevelopment Authority Approved — Arlington County is creating its first Community Development Authority. The CDA will be focused on making infrastructure improvements around the future Ballston Quarter mall — the new identity of Ballston Common Mall, which is being renovated. As part of a public-private partnership, the county plans to spend around $55 million to improve local roads, public plazas and the public Ballston parking garage. [Arlington County]

Chamber Supports Aquatics Center Plan — The Arlington Chamber of Commerce has penned a letter in support of building a scaled-down version of the Long Bridge Park aquatics center. “One of Arlington’s main assets is the employee talent pool we have residing in our county,” wrote the Chamber’s president. “The proposed facility will help attract and retain this talent, as well as the businesses looking to employ them.” [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

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Morning Notes

Flyfishing in Four Mile Run (Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley)

Yorktown Neighborhood Profiled — Schools and a sense of community are two of the biggest attraction to the north Arlington neighborhood of Yorktown. Safety is another plus: there were no burglaries or robberies reported in the neighborhood in the past 12 years. [Washington Post]

County Still Seeking Private Money for Aquatics Center — Arlington County is still looking for private partners and sponsorships before moving forward on construction of the Long Bridge Park aquatics center. It’s unclear if additional private money would be used to expand the center or reduce the estimated $40-44 million in taxpayer funding. Even without additional money, park bonds already approved by voters are expected to fully fund construction. [InsideNova]

Rosslyn Metro Express Guy Featured — The Express newspaper distributor who works at the Rosslyn Metro station was featured in a “happy news” video on the Facebook page of Seattle television station KING. [Facebook]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Letter to the Editor: Build the Long Bridge Park Aquatics Center

The following letter to the editor was submitted by Jef Dolan, an Arlington resident, Marymount University professor and mother of Olympic gold medalist swimmer Tom Dolan

As a long time swimming resident of Arlington, I would like to refute some of the points that Peter made in his March 31 column referring to the proposed aquatics center at Long Bridge Park.

Many early mornings I would have to take my two time Olympic Gold Medalist son Tom to 50 meter pools either in the District, Fairfax or Montgomery County to train or swim in local and regional meets. I resented seeing these facilities getting revenues from food concessions, t-shirts and pool fees.

Why couldn’t Arlington share in this revenue?

The aquatics center at Long Bridge Park gives us this opportunity.

Will Arlington need additional indoor and outdoor recreational facilities in the future?

Existing county recreational facilities are not adequate to meet the full range of current and future community recreational, fitness and aquatics needs of the growing youth, adult and senior populations. A report by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service Demographic Research Group showed that Arlington County’s population grew by 9.4 percent from the 2010 Census through July 2013 alone. By 2040, Arlington’s overall population is expected to grow by over 65,000 people.

Many of the aquatic classes I try to enroll in as a 55+ citizen in the high school pools through the parks and recreation department are closed due to over enrollment. As much of the Arlington population ages, we seek affordable places to recreate to continue productive lives in the county.

As a mom who has sat in pools all over the country, I have seen the benefits of a multi-purpose training facility.

Existing county recreational facilities are not adequate to meet the full range of current and future community recreational, fitness and aquatics needs of the growing youth, adult and senior populations. We need to have an Oak-Mar Fairfax facility in our community.

Sixty-three percent of our citizens responded favorably to this in a recent survey posted on ARLnow.com.

The money is there. Let’s coalesce as a community to build this facility.

I look forward to seeing many youth teams and swim for safety programs delight in this amenity in Arlington County.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

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Revised Plan Calls for Smaller Long Bridge Park Aquatics Center

Renderings of the future Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health & Fitness Facility(Updated at 10:45 a.m.) Arlington County is considering a new plan to build an aquatics and fitness center at Long Bridge Park.

The updated plan calls for reducing the size of the facility by 37 percent. That will reduce the overall cost of the project — which also includes the development of 10.5 acres of parkland around the facility — by 17 percent. The cost of the smaller facility is estimated at $63-67.5 million.

The goal is to reduce the cost of the project to within the $64 million in financing already obtained, primarily through a bond issue and developer contributions. The project was put on hold after construction bids well exceeded the original $79.2 million budget, as included in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan.

From a county press release:

The revised plan for Long Bridge Park reduces the size of the facility by 37 percent, to about 73,000 square feet. The reductions are achieved by reducing the number of pools from the three proposed in 2012 to two, reducing the number of lobbies, circulation areas and storage space. The smaller building, fewer pools, and a less expensive HVAC system all contribute to lower construction and operating costs. The family pool and teaching pool would be combined into a single pool under the new proposal, and the therapy pool and three dive towers eliminated. Space for a health and fitness center would be retained.

Estimated base construction cost for the recommended down-sized aquatics  health and fitness facility and development of another 10.5-acres of parkland is between $46 million and $50.5 million, Schwartz said, with the possibility of adding options such as advanced energy efficiency, a therapy pool, a 10-meter dive tower and 300 more spectator seats if the budget allowed or a partner or sponsor could be found.

With development of the additional 10.5 acres of parkland, a $5 million contingency and project management, design and other “soft costs,” the total project cost is estimated at between $63 million and $67.5 million – a 17 percent reduction from the $79.2 million Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) Budget estimate for the project. The County currently has $64 million earmarked for the project – primarily funded from a combination of voter-approved bonds and Transfer of Development Rights funding.

The county also notes that a proposal to share the costs of the facility with Alexandria does not seem to be feasible.

The full press release, after the jump.

Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz on Tuesday presented the County Board with options for moving forward with both the replacement of the Lubber Run Community Center and development of 10.5 more acres of open space and a reduced aquatics, health and fitness facility at Long Bridge Park.

The Board’s work session on the two projects helped frame the community’s upcoming discussion on updating the Capital Improvement Program, the County’s 10-year blueprint for funding major facilities and infrastructure. The work session, Chair Libby Garvey noted, “is the beginning of the process” of engaging the community on both projects.

An aquatics, health and fitness center to meet core community needs  

“After careful study, extensive engagement with the community and a lot of hard work by the Long Bridge Park Advisory Committee (LBPAC), we have developed a proposal to create an outstanding swimming and fitness center and 10 more acres of open space at Long Bridge Park within the existing budget and without additional taxpayer funds,” Schwartz said.

The goal is to meet core community needs and complete the open space and aquatics, health and fitness center within the existing $64 million budget, he said. Toby Smith, chairman of the Board-appointed BPAC, said the group agrees with the goals.

“Our fundamental recommendation is: don’t spend a dime more than what is already bonded,” said Toby Smith, chairman of the Board-appointed BPAC.  The proper way to include any elements that were removed from the program, he said on behalf of the committee, “would be through finding a sponsor or partner to bear the costs of those additions.”

Both Schwartz and Smith noted that the County’s recent POPS (A Plan for Our Places and Spaces) statistically valid community survey indicated that swimming pools were the most important indoor facility to Arlington residents, with exercise and fitness ranked second.

“We knew from experience that we commonly have more people on the waiting list for County aquatics classes than in the class,” Schwartz said. “What the community process showed us is that community support for an aquatics, health and fitness facility at Long Bridge Park remains strong.”

Board members praised the advisory group and County staff for reducing both the estimated construction costs and estimated operating costs for the aquatics, health and fitness facility.

Schwartz reported that a partnership the County explored with the City of Alexandria to build and share the aquatics, health and fitness center seems out of reach at this point. He said the County continues to explore potential private-sector partnership and sponsorships.

Fewer pools, lower construction and operating costs for Long Bridge Park project

The revised plan for Long Bridge Park reduces the size of the facility by 37 percent, to about 73,000 square feet. The reductions are achieved by reducing the number of pools from the three proposed in 2012 to two, reducing the number of lobbies, circulation areas and storage space. The smaller building, fewer pools, and a less expensive HVAC system all contribute to lower construction and operating costs. The family pool and teaching pool would be combined into a single pool under the new proposal, and the therapy pool and three dive towers eliminated. Space for a health and fitness center would be retained.

Extensive civic engagement identified community priorities

The recommendations resulted from a civic engagement process that included working with the LBPAC, surveys and a number of public participation events where participants shared what project elements were most important to them.

17 percent reduction in estimated total project cost

Estimated base construction cost for the recommended down-sized aquatics  health and fitness facility and development of another 10.5-acres of parkland is between $46 million and $50.5 million, Schwartz said, with the possibility of adding options such as advanced energy efficiency, a therapy pool, a 10-meter dive tower and 300 more spectator seats if the budget allowed or a partner or sponsor could be found.

With development of the additional 10.5 acres of parkland, a $5 million contingency and project management, design and other “soft costs,” the total project cost is estimated at between $63 million and $67.5 million – a 17 percent reduction from the $79.2 million Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) Budget estimate for the project. The County currently has $64 million earmarked for the project – primarily funded from a combination of voter-approved bonds and Transfer of Development Rights funding.

To view the staff presentation on the proposed revisions to the aquatics facility, visit the County website. Learn more about the history of the County’s development of Long Bridge Park, located in Crystal City along the Potomac River.

Multi-purpose center proposed for Lubber Run

Schwartz recommended moving forward with a plan to replace the aging Lubber Run Community Center at 300 N. Park Dr., with a multi-use community center. The new center would be up to four stories and would include program space for multi-generational activities, the existing pre-school, a gymnasium, underground parking and space to accommodate park staff. The recommendations grew from community feedback as well as review of County-wide recreational needs.

The proposal follows the recommendations of the Community Facilities Study that the County seek opportunities to combine uses on scarce public lands and build up rather than out to preserve open space. Eliminating the current surface parking lot and building a three-to-four-story community center with underground parking, Schwartz said, would add about 1.1 acres of open space to Lubber Run. The project’s estimated cost is $44.8 million.

The replacement proposal calls for a community center that would include flexible multi-purpose spaces for inter-generational programs; a ground-floor gymnasium; space to consolidate Department of Parks and Recreation staffers, new basketball and volleyball courts; an upgraded playground that will meet ADA accessibility standards and the current Department of Parks and Recreation pre-school program.

To learn more about the Lubber Run Community Center Project, visit the County website. View the staff presentation on the project scope recommendations.

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

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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Morning Notes

Autumn leaves (Flickr pool photo by Vandiik)

Group Offers Cheap Drinks to Encourage Voting — A nonprofit group will outside a half dozen Arlington polling stations on Tuesday, handing out wristbands good for cheap drinks at Clarendon bars, to “encourage young voters to celebrate democracy” and “draw more apathetic young voters out on Election Day.” [Washington Post]

Arlington Asking for Aquatics Center Feedback — Should Arlington County build the stalled Long Bridge Park aquatics and fitness center? If so, what kind of features should it include? That’s what the county is asking in a new online survey. Arlington originally launched a public input process for the planned aquatics facility in March. [InsideNova]

Airport to Cease Being a Homeless Haven — Starting today, Reagan National Airport will be kicking out the homeless who have used it as a makeshift shelter. Because it was clean, safe and open 24/7, dozens of local homeless individuals would pretend to be waylaid travelers and sleep in the airport’s terminals overnight. Increased use as a homeless sanctuary prompted airport officials to decide to no longer tolerate what will now be treated as trespassing. [Washington Post]

Fuel Spill at DCA — On Friday hazmat crews and the U.S. Coast Guard responded to a reported spill of 7,500-9,000 gallons of jet fuel on the south side of Reagan National Airport. The spill has been largely contained and is not a threat to drinking water, officials say. [WTOP]

Flickr pool photo by Vandiik

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County Considering Partnership With Alexandria to Build Aquatics Center

Renderings of the future Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health & Fitness Facility

Arlington County is asking for public input on a possible partnership with Alexandria to build the proposed Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility in Long Bridge Park, near Crystal City.

The county will reach out to residents this fall to see what they would like to see in an aquatic and fitness facility. Alexandria will also be surveying its residents.

If interests in both counties line up, the two will start to discuss costs and responsibility for the development of the pools and fitness area. The border between Alexandria and Arlington is roughly three miles from Long Bridge Park.

The possible partnership is the county’s latest plan to find the funds it needs to complete the second phase of the Long Bridge Park Project Plan.

“If the synergy is there, and both communities are interested, we will explore this further,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a statement. “Partnerships are just one of the many creative ways we are approaching the development of our facilities and programs.”

Phase Two includes building the aquatic and fitness facility, connecting an esplanade in Long Bridge Park to the building and the creation of public areas, trails, public art, walkways and signs for the park, according to the 2013 Long Bridge Park Master Plan.

The county has been planning a redesign of Long Bridge Park for more than 10 years, with the first phase completed in 2011. Higher-than-expected construction bids and operating costs prevented the county from choosing a contractor to complete phase two, pausing the project in 2014.

Once completed, the aquatic and fitness facility is planned to have a 50-meter pool for recreational, fitness and competitive swimming. There will also be a smaller pool for exercise and recreational program, a small hot-water therapy pool and a free-form water play area that will include a lazy river and slides, according to a 2013 design plan for the facility.

In addition to the aquatic elements, the facility will have a large fitness area and a community room, according to the plan. A “Multiple Activity Center,” which will have a climbing wall, a large indoor fitness space and an elevated track, is also planned.

The plans may change based on feedback from residents, Hynes said. The County Manager is scheduled to present recommendations to the County Board in January 2016.

“A lot has changed since that building was designed,” Hynes said. “The economy has changed. Many things in the region are different.”

While the county is waiting on the aquatic and fitness facility, it will continue to make improvements to the park. In June, the County Board unanimously approved the construction of playgrounds on the south end of the park. The $1.082 million contract includes play areas with cooling “fog” systems, tunnels, play structures, bridges, benches and fencing.

Photos via Arlington County

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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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Morning Notes

Brine pre-treatment on Columbia Pike Sunday night, as raindrops start falling

Kids Have iPads, But Teachers Don’t Have TrainingUpdated at 1:50 p.m. — Some fourth and sixth graders received iPad Air tablets (and ninth graders received MacBook Air laptops) from Arlington Public Schools this year, but many teachers have reportedly still not received formal training on how to use them, according to the Washington Post. (ARLnow.com hears that some students from other grades also received iPads.) While certain parents view the devices as “another screen,” others say the devices, if properly implemented in classrooms, can be used to educate students in an interactive way that they’re especially receptive to. [Washington Post]

Concrete Falling from I-66 Overpass — A local cycling advocate says chunks of concrete have been falling from the I-66 overpass over Lee Highway. [Windy Run]

Superintendent Makes Boundary Refinement Recs — Arlington Public Schools staff presented the superintendent’s recommendations for North Arlington elementary school boundary refinements to the School Board Thursday night. The changes would impact a relatively small number of students. A public hearing on the refinements is set for Jan. 15. [InsideNova]

Aquatics Center Still on Back Burner — Arlington County was hoping that D.C. might win the 2024 Summer Olympics bid so that it could build the stalled Long Bridge Park Aquatics and Fitness Center with Olympic funds. With hopes of that dashed, the county is now focusing on finding a way to build the aquatics center without using more than the $79.5 million allocated. The county may also start building the next planned phase of Long Bridge Park without the center. [Washington Post]

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Bids Canceled for Aquatics Center As County Seeks Private Funds

Renderings of the future Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health & Fitness Facility

(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) Arlington will not award a contract for construction of the Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility, delaying the project for at least a year, the county announced this afternoon.

The decision to cancel the bids for the facility follows an effort by County Manager Barbara Donnellan and her staff to work with construction companies to “value engineer” the project and lower costs. The bids initially came in well above the level necessary to keep the aquatics center within its original $79 million projected cost. Even with cheaper furnishings and other cut corners, however, we’re told the revised cost estimate “got close but not close enough.”

With $42.5 million in bond funding and a $15 million developer contribution already in place, that puts the County Board in a position in which it must approve additional taxpayer funds, scale back the design of the facility, or seek private funding. For now, the county will seek private funds.

County Board Chair Jay Fisette said the aquatic’s center design resulted from an extensive community outreach process that took into account its location near the Potomac River, within view of I-395 and major D.C. monuments.

“This facility resulted from [a community needs assessment] and then took several years to design,” he said. “I still think that to fulfill that plan is the right way to go. But I understand that staying within the previous budget is also appropriate.”

Fisette said the county will now seek funding from a private entity. Possibilities include a corporate sponsorship and naming rights, working with a for-profit operator, or partnering with a university or other institution.

Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston is one such facility built by the county but operated by a rent-paying, for-profit entity. The fields at Long Bridge Park and Barcroft Baseball Field #6 are partially paid for under partnerships with Marymount University and George Washington University, respectively.

A corporate sponsor may be interested in the naming rights to the facility, especially given its high-visibility location. Fisette said he’d be open to having the facility known as the Under Armor or the Nike Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility, among other potential sponsors.

“The goal is to identify any balance of funding beyond those already approved by the voters,” Fisette said. “This is an unusual and exceptional opportunity for someone who would like to have that visibility.”

What might make the opportunity more exceptional, according to county officials, is D.C’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. Later this month, the United States Olympic Committee is expected to narrow down the list of U.S. cities being considered as an Olympic host. Should D.C. be on that list, it could give a boost to the effort to attract sponsorships, given that the new aquatics center is likely to be one of the facilities used for the games.

“We are under the impression that as they move forward with their bid, that this site is included in their plans,” according to Fisette.

The county will “aggressively pursue private funding support” over the next 6-8 months, Fisette said. Donnellan plans to report back to the County Board in mid-2015, prior to any additional bonds being sold. Should attempts to find private funds prove unsuccessful, the next steps for the facility are “yet to be determined.”

The county press release on the announcement, after the jump.

Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan announced today that the County will not award a contract for construction of Long Bridge Park Phase 2, which includes the Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility (the “Facility”) and 8.5 acres of park.

“Last January I said that we would conduct extensive due diligence to ensure that the project estimate was sound and within the available budget, and that’s exactly what we did,” said Donnellan. “I have concluded, in consultation with the County Board, that the gap between our construction budget and the lowest bid is simply too great to bridge at this point.”

After thoroughly reviewing the project budget to look for cost savings and holding a series of discussions with the lowest bidder, the County has found that the community’s vision for the park could not be implemented within the current budget.  As a result, the County has cancelled the bid and postponed Phase 2 construction; the move does not require County Board action.

Extensive due diligence

Planning for various phases of Long Bridge Park have been underway for more than a decade.  In December, Arlington received bids for construction of Phase 2 that were higher than expected.

This was unexpected, as the County had taken the extra step of contracting with an engineering firm to review design and construction documents to provide independent, third-party cost estimates, which were within the reasonable range of the County Architect-of-Record’s estimates.

After three months of serious discussions with the lowest bidder, the County determined that it was impossible to bring the bid within the County’s budget without sacrificing too much of the intent of the design and programing of the project.

Intent to move forward

Over the next six months, Donnellan and her staff will seek potential partnerships and sponsorships – including naming rights opportunities — to further leverage private sector investments to move this project forward. She plans to come back to the County Board in mid-2015, prior to any additional bonds being sold, with an update on the project and her recommendations.

Long Bridge Park is a strategic investment that will provide a range of health, fitness and recreational opportunities for generations. The County remains committed to delivering all phases of the project as foreseen in the Long Bridge Park Master Plan, adopted by the County Board In 2013. “We are moving ahead with the design of the 6th Street South entry and play features adjacent to Fields 3 and 4 (Phase 3A),” said Donnellan. Construction is anticipated to be completed in 2015.

“We still believe that the Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility, as well as the additional parkland planned for Phase 2 development, are important elements of the County’s revitalization of Crystal City,” Donnellan said. “We are not asking Arlington County taxpayers for more money to build the Facility. Instead, we will be aggressively pursuing opportunities to partner with the private sector to finish Phase 2 of Long Bridge Park.”

She noted that the United States Olympic Committee is expected, later this month, to identify the short list of cities it will consider to become the U.S. bid for the 2024 Summer Games. The Washington, DC metro area is under consideration and Long Bridge Park is expected to be part of the plan. This sort of creative partnership is an example of the type of options the County is looking to pursue.

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