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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Kids Have iPads, But Teachers Don’t Have Training — Updated 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]
(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.
Peter’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 Friday, ARLnow.com posted a story that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is considering “a policy change that would lower the maximum allowable building heights near airports.”
That story mentioned a new bill proposed by Rep. Jim Moran and Congressional co-sponsors that would require the FAA to adopt its new building height restrictions through a “standard rulemaking procedure” rather than through a “proposed policy.” The difference between these two alternatives is that the standard rulemaking procedure involves consideration of more factors and evidence than the proposed policy approach.
Regardless of which procedure the FAA ultimately has to follow, it is not clear from either the ARLnow.com story or from the FAA formal announcement precisely what the FAA’s new height limitations will be, nor which geographic areas of Arlington will be subject to them.
But, it is clear that the Aquatics Center site at Long Bridge Park is directly in the airport’s flight path. Therefore, there is a reasonable possibility that the height of the roof of the currently-proposed design for the Aquatics Center — a height needed to accommodate the King’s Dominion-style water slide — will have to be lowered to meet the FAA’s proposed new height restrictions.
Given the FAA’s commitment to lower its height restrictions, it would be irresponsible for Arlington to proceed to a bid process for construction of the Aquatics Center without a binding agreement with the FAA that Arlington’s final design for this facility has FAA approval.
To the best of my knowledge, Arlington County does not have such a binding agreement with the FAA. If the FAA refuses to provide Arlington with such an agreement, the FAA’s refusal ought to be yet another reason to scale back the current Aquatics Center design. With so many other competing priorities, like the schools capacity crisis, “the community does not ‘need’ this gold-plated Aquatics Center, and we should not move forward with it even if we could do so within the whopping $80 million price tag we thought it would cost” as recently as last year.
Moreover, the continually-escalating construction costs for the current Aquatics Center design (now well north of $80 million) will be followed by the even more rapidly escalating annual operating costs of the current design (up from $450,000 per year only thre years ago to $3.8 million per year at last count).
The current Aquatics Center design is fundamentally flawed because it contains too many extravagant features. It’s time substantially to scale back the current design, and develop a new design for a sensible pool and recreation center at Long Bridge Park.
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.
Rising costs have led critics to push for the aquatics center to either be scaled back or scrapped altogether. In a letter to the editor, one Arlington resident says that an aquatics facility — even one downsized from the current plans — should still be built so those who can’t afford private aquatics facilities can enjoy the year-round fitness benefits of swimming.
Swimming is one of the few sports that people can continue well into their dotage. Yes, there is a need for the new facility because it offers pools that are warmer for both lessons and for older muscles that cramp in colder water. Providing active recreation that keeps joints functioning decreases the demand on other County facilities to care for elder clients.
Many older folks are long term residents of this county. For years we have paid for schools, park activities, and fields that we didn’t use with little complaint. It is our tax support that has created the County you now enjoy. Private year-round facilities are out of many retiree price range or do not offer activities that we can use.
It is not asking too much to afford older residents the opportunity to swim in a “subsidized” pool when they have paid and continue to pay County taxes with little other use of County facilities.
Too many younger, upwardly-mobile new residents of Arlington think of themselves and their desires with little concern for others in the County. They make the assumption that anyone who is not in their earning pool and who needs subsidy are the takers of society. Now where have we heard that mindset before? Hopefully, most residents of Arlington still believe in some form of economic equity that allows all county residents to enjoy the bounty of Arlington regardless of their income bracket. No one can tell when the advantaged become the ones who need assistance as many of us have experienced.
Yes, we need a new aquatic facility in Arlington, not a lavish facility, but one that offers all-day the capabilities to satisfy a wide array of ages and physical needs. Yes, building in Arlington is expensive but we can reassess construction needs and build with the funds already allotted. Yes, this facility did not come out of the blue nor was it designed in a vacuum. The public committee that has worked with County staff on the planning of this facility for over ten years has expressed their willingness to return to the planning process and produce yet another set of plans that have a better chance of meeting cost constraints. Let’s give them a chance to work with the County to produce a product that meets aesthetic as well as practical needs.
— Suzanne Bolton, Claremont
To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to [email protected] Letters to the editor may be edited for content and brevity.
The planned Long Bridge Park aquatics center has been the subject of controversy lately — as critics decry its rising projected construction and operating costs.
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.”
The following was sent in response to last week’s letter to the editor, “The Case for Long Bridge Park Phase 2.”
I am an Arlington resident and have been for 15 years. I would like to respond to Eric Cassel, President Friends of Long Bridge Park. First he makes the case that the target audience for this lavish facility is increasing in Arlington County. Target audience? Elementary school age children — I have lived in six states while I was growing up. In not one state was there a swimming facility for us to learn how to swim. How did this become a necessity for elementary school children? At what point did “we” decide that my elementary schooling when I was a child was lacking?
My parents took me to the YMCA to learn how to swim. We have one of those very close to the Pentagon City / Crystal City area. Why is it the tax payers responsibility to teach others children how to swim? Second, young urban professionals. We have gyms with pools in this area already. I belong to sport and health. The pool is rarely crowded. They can well afford to pay a gym membership. Again, why is it taxpayers responsibility to subsidize young urban professionals’ desire to swim? There are also the Arlington County high school pools that they are free to join at a great discount to them! Thirdly, the elderly. See my comments about the young professionals. In addition, not well-off elderly receive subsidizes from the County already. Why suddenly a “new need” for them to swim at taxpayer expense.
We already have Hayes Park for events of all sorts and a soccer field, basket ball courts, and tennis courts. Is this not enough? Why must the taxpayers now foot the bill for an overly expensive facility that supporters are attempting to portray as a requirement and entitlement?
To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to [email protected] Letters to the editor may be lightly edited for content and brevity.
The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
In November 2012, voters approved a bond that was titled “Local Parks and Recreation.” The primary part of that bond package was $50 million to complete funding for a new south Arlington swimming center which had a total price tag estimated at $75 million.
As it turns out, that still may not be enough. County Manager Barbara Donnellan had to halt forward progress on the new facility when bids came in well over the already-generous cost estimates. This was on top of the recent announcement that annual taxpayer subsidies for the ongoing operational costs of the project were ballooning dramatically over the original cost estimates. The new estimate is that the aquatics center will operate at a deficit of $4 million per year.
In 2012, the voters did give the “parks and recreation” bond 10 percent less of the vote than the community infrastructure bond, and 17 percent less than the schools and Metro bonds. It seems a larger percentage of voters than usual had concerns about the swimming facility than they usually do over local infrastructure spending. However, it is still tough to defeat a ballot measure that sounds as benign as “Local Parks and Recreation.”
As I was standing in line to vote 15 months ago, I recall hearing a mom explaining the bond votes to her elementary school-aged daughter. “We need good parks,” she said in explaining why she was voting for the bond. Maybe she knew the aquatics center was included and just wanted to simplify it for her daughter, or maybe she did not.
Either way, this is a perfect case in point for the need to have large bond issues stand on their own for votes. If the County Board is proposing a bond for more than $10 million on a single project, why not let us vote it up or down as a standalone measure?
The answer is quite simple. If the bond description had been “$50 million to complete a $75 million community swimming facility,” the County Board may have lost the vote. And, it is the same rationale by which Board members have resisted allowing even a token straight up or down vote on the Columbia Pike trolley.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.
Peter’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.
Several weeks ago the news broke that the annual operating subsidy Arlington would have to provide to the Aquatics Center had ballooned from $1.9 million to $3.8 million. Just three years ago, the County’s “high” estimate of the annual operating subsidy was $450,000.
On Dec. 12, I recommended that the County Board direct the County Manager to “halt all further work on the Aquatics Center… and develop a new, cost-effective design for a sensible recreation center at Long Bridge Park (including a swimming pool).” Little did I know when I wrote that December column that the construction bids to build this facility also would come in so much higher than anticipated.
In the face of more and more new information about the vastly higher operating and capital costs of this facility, it is very disappointing that some of our current elected leaders, and some of those who want to succeed them, stubbornly cling to the belief that all of the design elements in this project are sacrosanct.
For example, ARLnow.com quotes County Board Chair Jay Fisette as attempting to justify his continued support for the project because “more than a decade was spent on the Center’s design” and “exaggerations about the exact extent of the cost increases have been ‘celebrated by long-time opponents of the facility.’”
Our elected leaders should be offering us a contrite acknowledgement that despite over a decade of planning, they have allowed the current design to proceed laden with so many extravagant features. Planning should be judged by the wisdom of the final decision—not the length of time it takes to make it. In the new normal of Arlington’s economy, with 20 percent commercial office vacancy rates and our public schools bursting at the seams, sticking with the current design is a luxury we cannot afford.
Similarly out of touch is Alan Howze — one of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for the County Board seat soon to be vacated by Chris Zimmerman. ARLnow.com quotes Howze as saying there “clearly is a need in the community” for the Aquatics Center, and “we should move forward… if we can do it within the budget we’ve allocated for it”. With so many other competing priorities, the community does not “need” this gold-plated Aquatics Center, and we should not move forward with it even if we could do so within the whopping $80 million price tag we thought it would cost as recently as one month ago.
It’s long past time for the Aquatics Center to downsize or die.
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.
Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan announced late Friday afternoon that construction bids for the first phase of the Long Bridge Park aquatics center came in “significantly higher” than the $79.3 million projected cost. As a result, Donnellan says she will not be recommending a construction contract for County Board approval in early 2014, as planned.
Donnellan said it was “disappointing” that the bids far exceeded the estimate provided by its architect, which was in turn backed up by a third-party firm.
“The high bids were particularly disappointing because the County had done extensive due diligence to ensure that the estimate was sound and within the available budget,” she said in a statement. “We took an additional step of contracting separately with an engineering firm to review design and construction documents and provide independent third party cost estimates.”
“Once staff concludes its assessment of the bids and our architects’ estimates, I will present options to the County Board for next steps,” she continued. “In the months ahead, the County Board and the community will continue their careful consideration of the costs and benefits of building and operating this facility as we shape the FY 2015 Budget and the Capital Improvement Program.”
Reached by phone Friday evening, Donnellan told ARLnow.com that she expects to receive recommendations from county staff as early as February. She declined to speculate about the recommendation, saying that there’s significant work and analysis left to be done by staff.
Donnellan also declined to specify how many bids were received and how much higher those bids were than the estimate, citing legal constraints.
News of the delay in the project comes just a month after news that the aquatics center’s operating deficit would be 2 to 4 times that of original estimates. Local fiscal watchdog Wayne Kubicki says the county should consider scrapping the project altogether.
“This project has been mishandled by the County Board almost from the beginning,” he said. “With the pressures on other parts of the county and school budgets and the stagnation of commercial real estate values, it might well be time to moth ball the Long Bridge aquatics facility and simply leave the current park as-is.”
Construction bids received by the county for the project were technically for “Phase 2” of Long Bridge Park, which encompasses both the initial phase of the aquatics center and minor improvements to the park itself, including “public gathering areas, trails, public art, interpretive signs, and walkways.” Much of the funding for the projected cost of Phase 2 has already been secured, including $42.5 million from a parks bond approved in 2012 and $15 million from Vornado as part of the PenPlace development.
A Phase 3A and 3B, for other park improvements, are also planned, as is a Phase 4, which would complete the Aquatics, Health & Fitness Facility by adding a large “multiple activity center,” additional fitness space, racquetball and squash courts, a climbing wall, an elevated jogging trail, rental meeting rooms and a 547-space underground parking garage.
“Long Bridge Park is an ambitious project for our community, an infrastructure investment that is transforming a one-time industrial wasteland from a brownfield to an iconic gateway on the Potomac,” Donnellan said in her statement. “It will provide multiple recreational opportunities for our growing population and for future generations.”