YOUR VIEW | City Responds to CHRC Complaints

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To the editor,

Here are the answers to the questions raised in the February 26 editorial, Our ViewCity Officials Have Some Questions to Answer.

On Saturday, February 21, Alexandrians celebrated the reopening of the Charles Houston Recreation Center. The new facility is a modern 34,935-square-foot, environmentally friendly, sustainable building that enables the city to provide expanded recreation, education and social programs for residents of all ages. The building replaces the heavily used, outmoded, 16,000-square-foot recreation center that opened in 1976. For more than 30 years, the center was a pivotal community center that served tens of thousands of Alexandrians.

Here are the facts regarding the planning, oversight and cost of the Charles Houston Recreation Center:

In 2004, the initial plan to renovate the old center was estimated to cost $4.2 million. Through public input, it was determined that the old center did not have sufficient space to adequately serve residents needs (for example, the gymnasium was too small and did not include a full size basketball court) and the building was not configured for expansion. In light of these facts, simply adding a wing of classroom space to the existing structure was not a smart economic choice.

On October 25, 2005, following a series of community meetings on options for upgrading the center, the City Council supported the recommendation of the staff, the community and the citys Park and Recreation Commission, selecting a design option that provided for demolition of the old center and construction of a new one-story, expanded building. The design for the new center included a new outdoor pool, a full-sized gym, fitness room, dance room, and green technology to achieve the U.S. Green Building Councils LEED Silver certification. The financial result of the approved upgrades was a new estimated project cost of $9 million.

In 2006, city agencies and the Board of Architectural Review made additional recommendations that were shared with the community. The recommendations included the undergrounding of overhead utilities for the four streets adjacent to the center, which cost $2 million. This feature was added not only to support the new recreation center, but also to strengthen city infrastructure. In addition, $835,000 in irrigation and entryway and exterior site wall improvements were approved.
Finally, in the five years between the initial plans for the center in 2004 and completion of the centers construction in 2009, the cost of building materials, concrete, metals and roofing were increasing at the rate of about 18 percent a year due to inflation. When we compare construction costs in the early part of the decade to the cost incurred at the height of the market, actual construction cost resulted in a nearly $4 million cost increase, bringing the total cost of the project to about $15.3 million.

Regarding the Patrick Henry Recreation Center, the city did decide in 2006 to allocate about $3 million in city funds from the Patrick Henry Recreation Center project to help finance the Charles Houston Recreation Center. The city had planned to begin the renovation of the Patrick Henry Recreation Center within a year after the Charles Houston Center was completed. In 2008, we sought community input for programming and design of the Patrick Henry project. However, our current financial constraints, due to the economic conditions facing Alexandria and the nation, resulted in a very restricted proposed capital improvement program for Fiscal Year 2010. The renovation of the Patrick Henry Recreation Center will be a priority when economic conditions allow us to consider funding this important project.

Finally, all city decisions regarding both the Charles Houston and the Patrick Henry Recreation Centers were made in public, and with significant community input. Oversight for the Charles Houston project was extensive and decisions were made with the highest regard for the citizens of Alexandria. I invite all Alexandrians to visit and enjoy the Charles Houston Recreation Center.

James K. Hartmann

Alexandria City Manager

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