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.
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.
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]
With work kicking off on the long-awaited, hotly debated Long Bridge Park aquatics and fitness center, Arlington officials are looking for some feedback on what programs and services they should offer at the new facility.
After years of wrangling over the exact design and cost of the facility, county leaders expect the $60 million project will include a 50-meter pool, 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 will also include a new fitness center, billed as the largest one operated by the county, and an expansion of the adjacent park and its walkways.
However, a working group is still trying to get a sense for how Arlingtonians expect to use the space, and what programs staffers should offer at the facility. The county even released a new survey this week to help inform that group’s work.
Its areas of focus include questions on what days of the week and times of day residents envision attending the aquatics center, and queries about what sort of membership options the county should offer for people looking to use the center on a regular basis.
The survey also asks respondents for their opinions on what sort of equipment the county should offer in its fitness center — with options ranging from free weights to cardio machines — and what classes it should convene at both the pool and fitness center. Potential classes could focus on Crossfit, yoga, martial arts, scuba diving, lifeguard certification and a host of other areas.
The questionnaire also includes space for people to weigh in on exactly which features they want to see at the family-focused “leisure pool,” and seeks to gauge interest on aquatic activities like diving and water polo.
The working group is set to deliver its recommendations to the County Board by spring 2019. The county held a formal groundbreaking ceremony for the project back in July, and workers are currently in the process of clearing the site. The county hopes to open the center by 2021.
A Nauck church now has the green light to redevelop a former YMCA center into a new community pool, after Arlington officials signed off on a host of new zoning changes designed to make the construction of such pool projects a bit less onerous.
In back-to-back unanimous votes yesterday (Tuesday), the County Board approved the pool zoning tweaks, then used those new rules to give Macedonia Baptist Church the go-ahead to build the new pool at 3440 22nd Street S.
The site has been home to a pool and bathhouse since the 1960s, but the YMCA’s closure back in the mid-2000s left the building empty. Yet, when Macedonia sought to redevelop the site into a new “family life center,” the church ran into some zoning restrictions that could’ve made the whole project impossible to complete.
The Board was unwilling to completely re-write its zoning rules, but it would agree to make community pool projects (which are backed by nonprofit groups and not limited to a specific neighborhood) eligible for “use permits” in order to give the Board discretion to review the projects on a case-by-case basis, rather than subjecting every pool to the same standards.
That mean that the Board could sign off on Macedonia project under the newly approved zoning ordinance, even though it would’ve previously run afoul of rules requiring larger setbacks from the neighborhood’s streets. Board member John Vihstadt even dubbed the twin votes “a double win” for the community, and the county.
“We are demonstrating some nimbleness and alacrity in making a needed change that responds to new trends,” Vihstadt said. “This is so important, not just for the youth and individuals in the Nauck community… but also for entire Nauck neighborhood.”
The Macedonia project will include a seven-lane pool, a “seasonal dome” to allow year-round swimming and an auxiliary community center to sit alongside the existing Funshine Preschool. The church also anticipates allowing the Arlington Water Polo Club to use the facility for practice and training, though church representatives stressed that the pool will be open to anyone.
“Years ago, when the pool was there, it was beneficial to children and adults as well,” Macedonia congregant Laverne Langhorne told the Board. “We really do miss the pool.”
But beyond the importance of the Macedonia project on the micro level, Board members said they view the changes as an important step for the whole county.
The county currently has only five other community pools, and with zoning rules last revised in the 1950s, Board member Erik Gutshall said it was reasonable to assume that the old regulations meant “we really were never going to get another pool again.”
“This is the recognition by the Board that large parts of the county are no longer suburban,” Gutshall said. “We had a suburban style zoning ordinance… and while there are still parts of the county that are more suburban than others, what we’re doing now is untying our hands. We won’t just look at this with a suburban zoning code again.”
Photo via Arlington County
(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) Summer may be fading in the rearview mirror, but there are still plenty of public pools open for anyone looking to hit the water around Arlington.
The county doesn’t operate any indoor pools on its own — something that will change when the Long Bridge Park aquatics center opens a few years from now — but three pools in Arlington high schools are open for public use.
Washington-Lee, Wakefield and Yorktown high schools all have pools open to swimmers of all ages. Anyone interested in swimming can buy a pass for a single session, or purchase monthly passes. Full information is available on the school system’s website.
Those pools are open seven days a week, though each one has slightly different hours of operation. (The 2018-2019 schedule is pictured here.)
As for the county’s private, community pools, all five of those have closed for the season. In case you’re already dreaming of next summer, those include:
- Arlington Forest Club
- Columbus Club of Arlington
- Dominion Hills Area Recreation Association
- Donaldson Run Recreation Association
- Overlee Community Association
File photo (top)
Arlington officials are gearing up to loosen some of the zoning rules governing community swimming pools, in a bid to make it easier for organizations to build or renovate pools across the county.
The Planning Commission is set to hold a public hearing on the zoning tweaks this coming Wednesday (Oct. 10), with the County Board considering the changes soon afterward.
Primarily, the changes would give the Board more latitude to hand out “use permits” for the pools, giving officials the chance to review standards for things like fencing and setbacks on a case-by-case basis, rather than subjecting every pool to the same rigid standard.
The county doesn’t currently boast a large number of community pools, by any stretch of the imagination — there are just five pools around Arlington that aren’t owned by the county or restricted for a specific neighborhood or development’s use — but the zoning changes have sped through the county’s engagement process, nonetheless.
That’s largely due to the fact that the Macedonia Baptist Church is currently hoping to redevelop a former YMCA community center in Nauck, located at 3440 22nd Street S., into a community pool, and has been pressing the county for changes to the zoning standards.
Most of those documents haven’t changed since the mid-1950s, according to a county staff report, when many of the original community pools were first built. Staff notes that those standards “were originally intended to buffer residential communities adjacent to community swimming pools from the impacts of the use, and to ensure that the pool provided ample parking on site that did not congest nearby on street parking or other off-site parking facilities.”
But as Arlington has urbanized over the years, staff believes those standards have become increasingly out of date.
For instance, the zoning ordinance currently requires pools to be built with a 100-foot setback from a residential street, a standard designed to “minimize the audible and visual impacts of the pool on nearby neighbors,” staff wrote. But with space in Arlington increasingly at a premium, county officials believe “a combination of opaque fencing and landscaping” can accomplish the same goal without requiring quite so many design headaches.
County staff don’t want to see the Board do away with that sort of limit entirely, noting that there could be plenty of future instances where the “100-foot setback requirement could be warranted to prevent mechanical equipment, storage buildings, and other pool-related facilities from being located too close to an adjacent neighborhood or property.”
By changing zoning rules to give the Board the chance to review future community pool designs, however, staffers believe members would be able to examine each application on its own and evaluate “the specific circumstances of individual properties,” making the whole process a bit less rigid.
After the Planning Commission gets a chance to offer a recommendation on the zoning changes next week, the Board is set to consider them at its Oct. 20 meeting.
Flickr pool photo by Alves Family
County officials haven’t given up hope that they might someday find corporate sponsors for the Long Bridge Park aquatics center, in order to offset some of the costs of the controversial project.
With work on the $60 million facility formally kicking off this week, the county is also moving closer to hiring a marketing firm to help it recruit potential partners for Long Bridge. Officials hope to start soliciting bids from companies before the year is out.
The project has had its fair share of financial challenges over the years, with substantial cost overruns prompting the County Board to postpone its construction in 2014. All throughout the process, however, county staff have kept hope alive that a naming rights sponsor or some other corporate partner might step in to help make the pool a bit more affordable for Arlington taxpayers moving forward.
The county initially hoped that the D.C. region might win the 2024 Summer Olympics, attracting plenty of private sector cash for Long Bridge in the process. That bid fizzled, and the Board subsequently oversaw a substantial rollback in the project’s scope and cost, yet officials have remained hopeful that businesses or even local universities might step up to cover some of the pool’s ongoing operating costs.
County Manager Mark Schwartz conceded in a July 10 work session that part of the reason the county’s struggled so much on this question is that this “is not an area where we have a lot of expertise or experience.”
The county does have a deal with Marymount University backing one field at Long Bridge Park itself, and another sponsorship arrangement with George Washington University at Barcroft Park, where the university’s baseball team plays its home games. But Lisa Grandle, the county’s park development division chief, points out that the county generally “does not have any major sponsorships for Long Bridge or any of our other parks.”
She says the county has spoken “with a variety of potential sponsors and partners” for Long Bridge over the years, and even previously worked with a consultant to find some takers for the pool. Yet with all of that effort for naught, she says the county feels putting out a request for proposals for “on-call partnership and consulting services” is the surest way to finally manage a breakthrough.
The exact form of a corporate sponsorship for Long Bridge remains up in the air until the county can find a marketing partner, but Grandle did say the county has some general ideas.
“In general, sponsorships take the form of cash contributions from corporate entities in exchange for ‘entitlements’ from the county, such as naming rights, identification on signage, acknowledgement on staff uniforms or publications such as class catalogs, use of a facility for a ‘corporate day,’ or discount entrance passes,” Grandle wrote in an email. “The cash contributions for sponsorships can be structured in various ways, such as a large lump sum payment up front with smaller payments agreed upon over a period of time or a small lump sum up front payment with larger payments over agreed upon period of time.”
Grandle added that any consultant would initially focus on finding sponsors for Long Bridge, but the firm could also seek partners for other county parks in the future.
While there’s no guarantee that this new effort will succeed at Long Bridge, Schwartz expects that the mere fact that the county’s actually started work on the project after years of debate has to help matters.
“It makes it easier for us to go to prospective sponsors and saying, ‘Here’s the plan, here’s the actual timeline,'” said Schwartz, noting that the facility is currently set to open in 2021. “The process had been bit inchoate and now, to the extent we’re ever optimistic, we’re slightly more optimistic.”
Very little about the effort to build an aquatics center at Long Bridge Park has ever been easy — and that includes the project’s long-awaited groundbreaking.
Mother Nature had one last obstacle in store for county leaders as they gathered to finally turn some dirt at Long Bridge, delivering a formidable deluge that thoroughly soaked the construction site ahead of Tuesday’s ceremonial start to construction.
Yet even as the rain turned the ground to mush and tested the limits of attendees’ umbrellas, Arlington officials pressed on with a celebration of a project that’s been decades in the making.
“This project has endured worse than a little rain,” joked County Board Chair Katie Cristol.
Voters approved funding for the project in a 2012 bond referendum, but major cost overruns prompted county leaders to delay the facility’s construction two years later, and it quickly became a hot-button issue in that year’s local elections.
After a lengthy process of scaling back the project’s scope, and reducing its cost, the Board signed off on its construction last fall — but even still, some in the community would rather see it pushed back once more as the county wrestles with a budget dilemma.
Those are all big reasons why Jay Fisette, who served on the Board for 20 years, compared the project to a church in Barcelona, Spain that’s been under construction since 1882. Toby Smith, a local activist who helped lead the Long Bridge Park planning process, added that he “can measure the project’s length by the height of my kids.”
“It’s fair to say I did have doubts over the years, even as the community was largely still behind it,” Fisette told ARLnow. “It wasn’t clear every moment that it was going to happen… but groundbreaking helps it become eminently real.”
Fisette remembers some delays prompted when planners working to design the park, which opened across from the Pentagon in 2011, decided to shift where the aquatics center would be located within Long Bridge. He also puts some of the blame for the project’s long timeline on himself, recalling his insistence that the facility meet the new energy efficiency standards he fought to impose for county buildings.
“It was never expected to happen quickly,” Fisette said. “Good things sometimes take a long time.”
Still, Cristol lamented that it was “bittersweet” that the county would break ground on the project without Carrie Johnson around to see it. As one of the county’s longest tenured planning commissioners, Johnson played a key role in shepherding the entire Long Bridge Park project through the process, but she passed away this May.
“Years down the road, we’ll all be thanking Carrie Johnson for this,” Smith said.
But for all the project’s long history, Cristol points out that many of Arlington’s new arrivals are only now learning about aquatics center. She feels Long Bridge is as much about the county’s future as its past, and she hopes the upcoming construction work “will give people a chance to learn about what will be coming here.”
Work is set to wrap up in 2021, with a 50-meter pool, diving towers, a family pool and a series of additional park improvements on tap for the area by the time it’s completed.
So even if the project required some long nights, a few headaches and one last morning in the rain, Fisette feels it was all worth the effort.
“This area used to be an invisible place,” Fisette said. “It was a wasteland, where you’d only come if your car got towed. This is going to transform it into a vibrant community amenity.”
Students Sue Over W-L Name Change Decision — Three current students at the school claim Arlington’s School Board didn’t follow proper procedure in voting to start the process of stripping Robert E. Lee’s name from the school earlier this summer. [WUSA]
Could Jeff Bezos Buy Crystal City’s Biggest Property Owner? — JBG Smith’s CEO isn’t sure, but he’s heard the rumors too. The company took over the ownership of the bulk of buildings in the neighborhood from Vornado/Charles E. Smith and is a key part of Crystal City’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters. [Washington Business Journal]
County Board Considers Pool Zoning Rule Changes — After a Nauck church ran into trouble renovating a large pool, Arlington officials want to review how the county regulates those sorts of properties. They hope to wrap up work before the year is out. [InsideNova]
Metro Settles Legal Case Over L’Enfant Smoke Incident — The terms of the deal haven’t been made public, but the family of Carol Glover were seeking $50 million in damages from Metro. Glover died after smoke filled a tunnel near the L’Enfant Plaza station, an incident that sickened scores of other people. [Washington Post]
Nonprofit Raises $10,000 in Arlington Vet Tech’s Memory — Alexandria’s CEVA Animal Health raised the money to honor Chris Griffey, who once worked at the NOVA Cat Clinic in Arlington. The funds will go toward medical care for foster kittens. [WJLA]
Photo courtesy of @thelastfc
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.