Maintain fitness resource for all Alexandrians

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It is premature for the Alexandria Parks & Recreation Department to move forward with its proposal to convert one of the three remaining racquetball courts at Chinquapin to a soft-playroom.

If adopted, the proposal would reduce the citys racquetball capacity by 25 percent and leave only three racquetball courts in the city.

Racquetball is an easy-to-learn sport enjoyed by a wide-range of Alexandrians, from youth up through senior citizens, and by both men and women.  It also is a physically active sport that contributes to keeping our citizens young and old healthy.  This is important, considering the city health department published a report in 2004 concluding that fighting obesity was a top priority.   Eliminating 25 percent of the available racquetball courts in our city will do little to meet public health goals and will deny many citizens (adults and youth) access to a valuable source of cardiovascular recreation.

Rather than reducing the number of available courts for Alexandrians, the Parks and Rec Department should be encouraging even greater racquetball participation by city residents. It is a wonderful sport that more adults and children should have an opportunity to play, especially since racquetball is a lifelong sport that can benefit our youth through the adult years. For example, with the new T.C. Williams high school nearing completion, racquetball could be introduced into the physical education curriculum. The city could help promote the sport by sponsoring tournaments for novices, youth and experienced players.  But the courts arent only of value for racquetball, we are learning that the high ceilings of racquetball courts are used by some local youth volleyball programs to train new players and sharpen the skills of their experienced teams.

While the creation of a city-run soft-playroom for Alexandria toddlers may be a good idea, the Parks & Rec Department has yet to conduct a needs assessment but has found time to develop a number of designs to convert the racquetball court into a playroom.  This is a classic case of putting the proverbial cart/stroller before the horse.  Several key questions need to be answered. 

First, is a city-supported soft-playroom warranted? (A market analysis would help answer this question.) If so, where is the greatest need and, then, where should it be located?   Again, the city has the process backwards. It already has selected a location and is trying to justify that decision without fully exploring viable alternatives. Where is the greatest need?  Is it in the rapidly growing West End? Is it in the densely populated neighborhoods in-and-around Arlandria? And why convert a racquetball court, which is built to unique specifications, including 20-foot-high ceilings? Even the most vocal advocates of a soft-playroom acknowledge that a room with normal ceiling height would suffice.  Finally, until a master plan is prepared and approved for the new Chinquapin-T.C. Williams complex, it is premature to eliminate use of an active racquetball court. 

Allocating recreation and fitness resources should not be a zero-sum game taking away from one group to give to another. A soft-playroom may have a place in the inventory of Alexandria recreational activities, but not at the expense of another recreational resource.  Closing a racquetball court to accommodate a soft-playroom for toddlers should be the last resort, not the first choice. There are other options and locations that should be pursued. Youth and adults in Alexandria need more, not fewer, active recreational resources.

Ken Arnold is a resident of Alexandria.

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