City weighs Olympic pool at Chinquapin

City weighs Olympic pool at Chinquapin

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Local swimmers could soon hone their freestyle or breaststroke in an Olympic-sized pool without needing to venture beyond the city limits.

Officials are considering adding a 50-meter pool at Chinquapin Park Recreation Center as part of planned renovations to the site. But first, officials needed to know whether an Olympic-sized pool could fit in the rec center.

So they turned to Hughes Group Architects to get to the bottom of that question. City Hall got its answer from Amado Fernandez, a vice president at the firm, last week: Yes.

But just because another pool would fit on the site, it doesn’t mean it will be cut-and-dry. A piece of the land is set aside for storm water management and a sewage pipe runs along another portion of the property. Plus, the rec center sits along a steep hill.

“Our job was simply to see if it would fit on the site,” Fernandez said. “Since [part of the property] is part of a city-wide zone of storm water management, that’s something that will need to be analyzed as we move forward.”

And Laura Durham, city open space coordinator, said trying to build over the current sewer line would make the pool much more expensive.

“The pipe would have to be relocated, so there is a significant additional cost to that,” Durham said.

City councilors already slated a total of $20 million toward the renovation project in the most recently approved capital budget. They allocated $500,000 this year for the ongoing feasibility study, with $4.5 million coming in 2016 and $15 million in 2017.

City spokesman Craig Fifer said that $2.5 million will come from private contributions by local swimming advocacy groups.

Consultants believe city officials would recoup most of the cost of operating an Olympic-size pool. Without a comparable public pool in town — and the two private pools unequipped for competitive swimming — only 20 percent of frequent swimmers in the city take advantage of Chinquapin.

“Because Chinquapin only has a 20 percent capture rate, there’s significant unmet demand for aquatics in the city,” said John Montemayor of Brailsford and Dunlavey, a consulting firm that studied the economics of a new pool. “There’s a great potential for aquatic-center growth here.”

But residents, including those who have advocated for better swimming facilities for years, remain concerned about the potential price tag. Earlier this year, renovations planned for Arlington County’s Long Bridge Park fell into difficulties after reports that the cost of building and operating an Olympic swimming pool had more than doubled.

“We’ve all heard about the problems at Long Bridge, so increase our comfort level that this project will work better,” said Bill Rivers, chairman of Advocates of Alexandria Aquatics. “I have faith, but just make me feel better.”

And Kurt Thiel of Potomac Valley Swimming also wants reassurances, noting that the Long Bridge project also was designed in part by Hughes Group Architects.

“I was on the Arlington County pools committee back in ’99, and we could have had a two-pool facility for $21 million,” Thiel said. “Instead we were told $40 million, and then $80 million, and in the end, if we tried to build an architectural statement, it would be $215 million and it would not be functional.”

Fernandez said Alexandria is being more cautious — engaging architects, business analysts and residents — in part because of the travails of the Port City’s neighbor to the north.

Officials hope to finish gathering resident input on the various designs by September, and submit a final report with recommendations to city council in November.