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Fitness buffs, lap swimmers, curious residents and families with kids could be seen trickling into the Long Bridge Aquatics & Fitness Center this morning (Monday), on the opening day of the new facility.

A 12-year-old girl from Dorothy Hamm Middle School was the first to jump into the water, according to the Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish.

Later, when an ARLnow reporter visited the facility, a five-year-old boy could be heard wondering how tall the diving boards were, while a handful of adults worked out upstairs in an 8,000-square-foot fitness center. More families showed up later in the morning.

The county put $2 million in donations from Boeing toward opening the center at 475 Long Bridge Drive this summer. At one point, a July opening seemed possible, but delays pushed the date back to August.

Four years after the project was approved, the 92,000-square-foot swimming and recreation facility — the second of four phases to redevelop Long Bridge Park — is officially open. It boasts a pool for serious swimmers and one for recreational swimmers, with numerous community amenities, from spas to community rooms.

“We have a full certificate of occupancy, but there is still a punch list” of tasks to complete before the center is fully done, said Peter Lusk, the athletic and facilities services division chief for the county.

Kalish said the parks department will transfer many of its swimming programs to the center, which “will help the community a lot,” as pre-pandemic, swimming classes hosted at pools in Arlington Public Schools filled up quickly.

Parks department classes are due to restart in mid-September, “the first time in 17 months,” Lusk said.

Competitive swimmers, water polo players and synchronized swimmers can use a 79-degree pool that can be configured for either 25-yard laps or 50-meter ones, using moveable starting platforms. There’s also an area for spectators upstairs.

Some younger recreational swimmers will remain at local school pools, as parents expressed concerns about travel times to Long Bridge Park.

The Aquatics Center “will be the home of the Arlington Aquatic Club,” Kalish said, referencing the county-run competitive swim program that helped to train Olympic medalist Torri Huske. “Younger ones will swim in school pool closer to home.”

Recreational swimmers can use a family pool with a splash pad, a water slide, four 25-yard lap lanes, a lazy river and a spa. The pool is 83-84 degrees for tots, seniors, and those doing therapeutic water activities. The lap lanes can be used for water volleyball and basketball, which Kalish said the department is “hoping this will be a draw for millenials.”

Nearby, “wet” meeting rooms can be used classes and for birthday parties.

Kalish shared grand visions for bringing out the community, from hosting big swim meets and using a large screen for movie nights, renting out open spaces and turning part of the facility’s new parking lot into farmer’s markets and wine tastings.

Prices for passes range by age group, and reductions are available to income-eligible residents. Daily admission ranges from $5-9 per person or $25 for families, and an annual pass ranges from $350-630 per person or $1,750 for families.

Boeing, for whom one pool is named, is making about 5,000 daily passes available to active duty military families in the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore’s service area for free through a lottery system.

The project has been in the works for nearly a decade, attracting some controversy along the way.

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Swim meet at the Dominion Hills pool in 2013 (photo courtesy Dennis Dimick)

The swim and dive teams at the Dominion Hills Pool are ditching the “Warriors” team name and moving away from Native American motifs.

The Dominion Hills Area Recreation Association Board of Directors started soliciting suggestions from swimmers, divers, coaches and families on Friday, according to an email to team families, shared with ARLnow.

“We decided to stop using Native American imagery at our pool and the name ‘Warriors’ for our swim and dive teams,” the board tells ARLnow in a statement. “While the name ‘Warriors’ has several meanings and by itself is unobjectionable, the teams have used it in connection with Native American themes. The Board decided to solicit ideas from the members for a new name and mascot.”

It started de-emphasizing the use of the name this season, according to an email to team families. The pool’s board is open to a name that would permit members to use existing gear, which bears a feather illustration.

“We recognize that there may be some disappointment as we make this transition but we are excited to select a new team name and mascot,” the email said. “Team names that would be appropriate to use with a feather mascot have the added practical benefit of allowing us to continue using the feather on existing team gear.”

A committee of team representatives and board members will review the submissions and recommend a new name to the full board, which aims to announce the new name at a banquet on Saturday, July 24, according to the email.

The Washington Football Team — which nixed its former name one year ago — is making a similar play as it narrows down options for a new name and logo, to be chosen early next year.

“Feedback from across communities we engaged clearly revealed deep-seated discomfort around Warriors, with the clear acknowledgment that it too closely aligns with Native American themes,” WFT president Jason Wright explained in a blog post.

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Arlington’s first free-standing aquatics center could open its doors in the next couple of months.

“The [Long Bridge Aquatics & Fitness Center] will be opening this summer, but it’s too far out to give an exact month or day,” Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish tells ARLnow.

The approved Fiscal Year 2022 budget includes funding for the opening of the facility at 475 Long Bridge Drive, in Long Bridge Park, using $2 million of a nearly $10 million donation from Boeing, which has its D.C. area headquarters nearby. According to the budget, the center is slated to open in July.

As work draws to a close, project manager Erik Beach gave ARLnow a tour of the facility, which has a pool for competitive swimming and a family pool, a center with fitness equipment, and spaces for classes, parties and events.

“It’s a pretty incredible site,” he said.

Work began on the 92,000-square-foot swimming and recreation facility — the second of four phases to redevelop Long Bridge Park — three years ago. But the history of the controversial project goes back much farther.

Voters approved funding for the project in a 2012 bond referendum, but due to rising costs the recreation center was put on hold in 2014. Three years later, the County Board voted to award a construction contract and get started on the $60 million recreational center. The project broke ground in 2018.

One hallway “will have a timeline of the project’s development, since it had such a long, rich history, if you will,” Beach said.

The Boeing donation will not just cover operating costs. It will also make admission free for active duty military families in the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore’s service area. Families will have access to about 5,000 daily passes per year through a lottery system.

“We are grateful we can recognize the importance of our active-duty military families by providing them with a day of fun and fitness in our new, state-of-the-art facility,” Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said in a statement.

Jason Pak, the director of Boeing Global Engagement, said the company is proud to give members of the armed forces convenient access to the facility.

“The Long Bridge Aquatics & Fitness Center will be critically important in not only providing support for the recovery and rehabilitation of service members but also promote general health and wellbeing for everyone in our community,” he said in a statement.

The community will have access to two pools. Competitive swimmers, water polo players and synchronized swimmers can use the 50-meter pool with diving towers, a whirlpool, and two moveable bulkheads (the starting platform for swimmers). Recreational swimmers can enjoy the family pool with a splash pad, a water slide, four 25-yard lap lanes, water volleyball and basketball areas and a lazy river.

On dry ground, the center has an 8,000-square-foot fitness center with cardio and fitness equipment, plus a studio for group classes. The facility also has three community rooms and two spaces for fitness classes, parties and gatherings.

The revamped Long Bridge Park includes more than 10 acres of new parkland for casual use, a new public art piece and outdoor space for festivals and special events.

“This is an area that can really exceed expectations,” Beach said.

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A new ropes course facility is set to open at Upton Hill Regional Park sometime in June, amid an expected spike in park visitor activity.

“It’s going to be the biggest and the best in the mid-Atlantic region,” said Paul Gilbert, the executive director of NOVA Parks, of the new ropes course. NOVA Parks runs Upton Hill, which is located at 6060 Wilson Blvd near Seven Corners.

Climb UPton will have 90 different elements on three different levels, including zip lines and a 50-foot drop. It will be open to those who are 49 inches or taller.

Construction on the course is largely complete but work, subject to changing weather, continues on an administrative building, Gilbert said. Once more work is complete, NOVA Parks will set a user fee and pick an opening date, which the executive director expects will be in mid- to late- June.

As for COVID-19 safety, Gilbert said social distancing is built into the course and equipment will be sanitized between uses.

“The outdoors is your biggest safety feature,” he said.

This new facility will open as NOVA Parks expects an increase in visitors to all its facilities this summer. Gilbert said he expects pools and waterparks — all of which will open Memorial Day — to drive the increase, as they were closed last summer.

“This summer, people are going to be interested in returning to normalcy,” said Gilbert, who is also George Mason University’s Executive-in-Residence for the College of Education and Human Development’s Recreation Management Program.

Adhering to Virginia guidelines for aquatic facilities, Upton Hill’s pool will operate at 75% capacity, and an annual pass will not guarantee admission if capacity has already been reached, according to the park’s Facebook page.

The organization is currently not selling new annual passes due to these restrictions.

“NOVA Parks will continue to evaluate this situation throughout the summer,” according to a Facebook post.

For its beach-themed Ocean Dunes Waterpark, Upton Hill is “hiring and preparing the waterpark for Memorial Day weekend opening,” another Facebook post said.

NOVA Parks is continuing to hire new summer staff for all its facilities to meet the surge in visitors, as capacity restrictions are set to perhaps end by June 15, Gilbert said.

But even with the restrictions, reopening the pools and waterparks could be a boon for the regional parks authority, which took an estimated $5 million hit in user fees in part because aquatic facilities were closed, according to its current budget.

Normally, 300,000 people visit one of NOVA Parks’ five waterparks each year, Gilbert said.

“Over the pandemic, people were already exploring the outdoors in new ways, because so many other things weren’t available,” Gilbert said. “We saw unprecedented use of hiking and biking trails. Now that people have discovered or rediscovered how fun the outdoors can be, I anticipate they will continue to gravitate to parks.”

Trail use increased by four to five times, he said. People also gravitated toward another activity that had been declining in popularity over the years: golf, which is up 30% from pre-pandemic times, he said.

NOVA Parks also leaned on other activities with social distancing potential, such as shooting, boating and swinging baseball bats.

“I think all of those trends are going to continue for some time,” Gilbert said. “People have been reintroduced to outdoor recreation.”

Photo courtesy NOVA Parks

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The Macedonia Baptist Church in Green Valley is asking for a three-year extension on its plan to build a new community swimming pool.

The church at 3412 22nd Street S. owns a property across the street that currently includes a two-story preschool and an out-of-commission swimming pool and bath house. The aquatic facilities “were constructed in the 1960s, to serve a Y.M.C.A; however, the pool has been out of use since the late 2000s,” a county staff report notes.

In 2018 the church sought and received approval for a plan to build a new community pool at the site, to include a dome for all-season use. However, it’s still working to secure the funds for the project, and the window for starting construction is closing.

The Arlington County Board this weekend is expected consider a proposal to extend the window for three years, through October 31, 2023. County staff is recommending approval.

More from the staff report:

The applicant (Macedonia Baptist Church) requests a three (3) year extension of two (2) use permits: one (1) for a new community swimming pool, located at 3440 22nd St. S.; and one (1) to allow shared parking on its church parking lot, at 3412 22nd St. S. In October 2019, the County Board approved a one (1) year term extension for each subject use permit. However, neither use has commenced construction or operation since initial approval in October 2018, and the applicant requests additional time to acquire financing for the project. Pursuant to the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance (ACZO) §15.4.5, construction or operation of a use permit shall be commenced within one (1) year of the date of issuance or the use permit becomes void. However, the County Board may extend the period of validity for up to three (3) years upon its determination that additional time may be needed to commence construction or operation. Staff supports the applicant’s amendment request to extend the period of validity to 2023, given the economic challenges presented by the COVID-19 emergency, the County’s recent efforts to revitalize community swimming pool zoning standards, and the applicant’s agreement to the previously approved, mitigating conditions.

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The indoor public pools at Washington-Liberty and Yorktown high schools reopened on Saturday.

Arlington Public Schools announced Friday afternoon that the pools would be reopening under the state’s Phase 3 guidelines. The Wakefield High School pool “will remain closed for a few more weeks” due to major maintenance work, APS said.

Those who want to use the pools are required to make a reservation for a 45-minute window.

More from an APS email to parents:

The two pools will open under the Virginia Forward Phase III guidelines, which include diminished capacity, physical distancing of 10 feet and the requirement of a health and temperature screening for all staff and patrons. We have posted many of the details on our website and will continue to do so over the next 24 hours. Use this link to learn more and stay informed.

Patrons will need to purchase admission and make a reservation for a 45-min swim or water exercise/jog session. You will need to set up an account on our Self-Service Portal. You will receive a separate email this evening inviting you to join the APS Aquatics Self-Service Portal. Follow the instructions on the email to set up your account. […]

The reservations will open at 8 a.m. on the previous day (On Friday at 8 a.m. you will be able to register for Saturday sessions). They will first go live tomorrow morning. Instruction on registering are available at Making a Reservation. This section also includes information about what to expect when you get to the pool, while you swim and after you are done. Patrons will be checked in, directed to the locker rooms to shower before swimming and out to the deck to a designated Blue or Red lanes. After you swim, you may choose to exit directly off the deck or enter the Unisex Room to change out of your swimming gear and shower. If you have any questions or need assistance navigating the portal or the registration page, please call 703-228-6264 or 703-228-6263. […]

Regretfully, The Wakefield pool will remain closed for a few more weeks. APS is performing major maintenance in the entire building ahead of the start of the school year. We recognize this is disappointing to our Wakefield patrons, but it is imperative that this work be completed. We anticipate opening around August 24. […]

The APS Aquatics team is excited to be back at the pools and ready to welcome you back.  Staff will be learning how to navigate this new way of serving you and the success of our re-opening depends greatly on your willingness to follow the guidelines and on your patience. Our primary concern remains your safety both in the water and in the building.

We very much look forward to seeing you on Saturday at Washington-Liberty and Yorktown Pools. It has been a long 4-months on dry land.

Arlington County does not have outdoor public pools, but is home to several private swim clubs. The county government itself does not currently operate any public pools, but that will change when the Long Bridge Park Aquatics and Fitness Center opens. The opening of the aquatics center, however, has been delayed at least a year due to the pandemic and budget issues.

File photo

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Morning Notes

Demolition Starts at HQ2 Site — “Roughly a dozen demolition workers from construction firm ACECO were on site in yellow vests and hard hats, along with a couple of excavators, one of which sat on a mound of bricks as it tore down the southeast side of the single-story building.” [Washington Business Journal]

Apartments are Hot Near HQ2 — “The development patterns that are taking place in Crystal City make it a more live-work-play area versus being an office-dominated submarket that has an underground mall… That area is evolving with new product coming online and Amazon making its presence in the region. All of those things have helped generate demand for multifamily housing.” [Bisnow]

New Pool House for Army Navy CC — “Arlington County Board members on Jan. 25 are expected to approve procedural matters that will pave the way for Army Navy Country Club to renovate its swimming areas and construct a new poolhouse.” [InsideNova]

Arlington Eateries Absent from Top 20 List — The new 2020 Washingtonian 100 Very Best Restaurants list does not include any Arlington spots in the top 20. [Washingtonian]

County Pitches in to Route 7 BRT Study — “The Arlington government will toss in just under $40,000 in support of the next phase of a plan to develop high-quality bus service in the Route 7 corridor. Arlington will allocate $39,200 as its share in covering the $560,000 cost of a ‘mobility analysis,’ the fourth phase of the study.” [InsideNova]

Four Mile Run Biz Celebrates 25th — Family-owned car repair business Auto Stop Arlington is celebrating its 25th anniversary this weekend with an event that will include a food truck, beer and wine tastings, and kids activities. [Facebook]

RIP Jim Lehrer — The longtime host of the PBS Newshour, which is produced in the Shirlington area, has died at the age of 85. [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Morning Notes

Arlington Wins State Safety Award — “The Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) and Department of Environmental Services (DES) were awarded the 2019 Governor’s Transportation Safety Award in the category of Pedestrian/Bicycle Safety at the 2019 Virginia Highway Safety Summit.” [Arlington County]

Ducks Close Fairlington Pool — “Due to a family of ducks ‘living’ in pool 2 (safely re-located) earlier today, the pool will be closed until Premier Aquatics balances the chemicals to meet Arlington County Health department code.” [Twitter]

Translation Added to County Website — “The County website — arlingtonva.us — now includes a built-in language translation tool that web visitors can use to more easily translate online content into more than 100 different languages.” [Arlington County]

More Candidate Endorsements — Greater Greater Washington has endorsed Del. Alfonso Lopez and state Senate candidate Nicole Merlene. The Sun Gazette, meanwhile, has endorsed incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos. [Greater Greater Washington, Sun Gazette]

Nearby: Sugar Shack Hurt By Metro Shutdown — Metro’s “summer shutdown” is hurting the Alexandria location of Sugar Shack donuts and other small businesses in the city. [Washington Post]

Nearby: Electric Scooter Bursts into Flames — “A Skip e-scooter burst into flames near Franklin Square in downtown Washington on Thursday morning… The cause of the fire is not clear, though it appears to have started around the battery pack while the scooter was parked.” [Washington Post]

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Though the opening of the ever-controversial Long Bridge Park aquatics and fitness center is still a ways off, county officials are gearing up to hire two new staffers set to work at the facility.

County Manager Mark Schwartz set aside $110,000 for the newly created positions as part of his proposed budget for fiscal year 2020. He forwarded along his first draft of the new spending plan to the County Board late last week.

Schwartz is recommending that the Board act now to start the recruitment and hiring process for a general manager and a maintenance technician for the facility, currently expected to open sometime in “early 2021.”

“Hiring these two positions prior to the facility opening will allow the Department of Parks and Recreation to develop standard operating procedures; ensure mastery of all building systems, including specialized aquatics equipment; procure inventory; and develop staff training plans,” Schwartz wrote in a message attached to the budget proposal.

The manager expects that the county will be able to afford the new hires largely through some staff reductions elsewhere across the department. In all, Schwartz is recommending $5.2 million in cuts in his budget, affecting 29 full-time positions and one-part time position across the county government. He’s also proposing a tax hike to meet some of the county’s growing expenses, though the Board opted to explore an even larger tax increase than he originally recommended.

Construction has continued apace on the $60 million Long Bridge project ever since it finally broke ground last summer, following years of debate over its scope and cost. Schwartz added in his budget proposal that he “remains committed” to somehow striking a naming rights deal for the facility to defray some of its costs — the Board decided last year to hire a marketing firm to help the county search for potential sponsors.

“As the project moves closer to completion, we remain optimistic that our efforts will be successful,” Schwartz wrote.

County officials also expect to finalize a fee structure for anyone hoping to use the facility’s pools and gym as part of the upcoming budget process. A working group on the subject recently wrapped up its deliberations and will deliver a proposal with potential fees to the Board in the coming weeks.

According to a Jan. 31 presentation from the group, daily passes for county residents would range from $9 for adults to $5 for children. An annual pass for adults would cost $630 and $350 for kids.

Non-residents would pay a 25 percent premium on daily passes and a 30 percent premium on all other passes, under the working group’s proposal.

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Arlington officials are getting ready to spend nearly $410,000 for the installation of video boards at the Long Bridge Park aquatics and fitness center, a pricy project that has drawn plenty of criticism over the years.

The County Board is set to approve a contract with a construction company this weekend, after staff submitted a report arguing that only a firm with “specialized knowledge” will be able to handle the installation of the center’s audiovisual systems. The county’s main contractor kicked off work on the building this summer, though workers have mainly been occupied with clearing the site at 475 Long Bridge Drive since then.

In all, the contract calls for the erection of an “LED video board” in the center’s main “natatorium,” complete with an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Staff wrote in the Board report that the work will also include “fixed video cameras, associated broadcasting equipment, ceiling mounted speakers, and other associated hardware and software” in order to allow for the “live streaming of swimming and diving events.”

“The facility will also include speaker systems in the leisure/family pool, that will interact with wireless microphones, as well as in exercise spaces in the facility,” staff wrote. “The package also includes central paging, to ensure all areas of the building can be reached in an emergency.”

The Long Bridge project has long been the subject of intense scrutiny, after creeping costs convinced county leaders to repeatedly delay its construction. Former County Board member John Vihstadt was no fan of the project either, railing against its expense during his successful bids for office in 2014. Vihstadt and other skeptics around the county argued that Arlington had more pressing budget needs than a new pool, and that the project had become full of excesses.

But the Board signed off on a scaled down, $60 million version of the project over Vihstadt’s objections in 2017. However, there were few mentions of the audiovisual system set to be installed as part of this work during debates over the matter.

The Board is currently set to draw the $410,000 for the A/V installation from a $10.7 million fund the county set aside for the project’s “soft costs,” on top of the original $60 million sum designated for the center’s construction. Board members are set to approve the new contract at its meeting Saturday (Jan. 26).

When the project is finished, likely sometime in 2021, the center is also set to include room for diving at a variety of heights, and a family pool, complete with elements including a lazy river, splash pad for tots, basketball, volleyball, lap lanes and a water slide. The project also includes a new fitness center, billed as the largest one operated by the county, and an expansion of the adjacent park and its walkways.

A working group convened to hash out potential fees for the center’s users is also set to meet next Thursday (Jan. 31), as the county solicits feedback on what services residents want to see at Long Bridge.

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Morning Notes

Marine Corps Marathon Recap — A D.C. man and a Costa Rican woman were the winners of the 43rd annual Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday. Meanwhile, the last “Groundpounder,” who had run every Marine Corps Marathon since its inception in 1976, announced his retirement on Saturday after deciding to withdraw from this year’s race. [RunWashington, Stars and Stripes, WTOP]

Arlington Gets Addiction Treatment Grant — “Arlington County has been awarded $250,000 from CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (CareFirst) to help people with substance use disorders. The grant is part of the insurer’s nearly $2.1-million investment in community health organizations working to combat substance use disorders, including opioid use disorders.” [Arlington County]

Parking Concerns For Nauck Pool — “Nauck Civic Association president Portia Clark, whose organization supports” a planned pool in Nauck, “pressed county officials to make sure the neighborhood had a say on issues related to its development, including operating hours and parking. ‘Our community has some parking challenges,’ Clark said. ‘The community should be involved.'” [InsideNova]

‘Signs of Fatigue’ For Real Estate Market — “There was a pronounced drop in the number of homes for sale in Northern Virginia in September, and prices may be showing signs of topping out… The number of sales across the Northern Virginia region almost universally fell in September, with sales in Arlington County down 12 percent from a year ago.” [WTOP]

Flickr pool photos by Eric and Kevin Wolf

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