Chinquapin Olympic pool dead in the water?

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Chinquapin Olympic pool dead in the water?
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By Susan Hale Thomas (Photo/Susan Hale Thomas)

The results are in on the estimated cost to construct a new indoor Olympic-sized pool at Chinquapin Park Recreation Center, and they’re not looking good.

At $30.7 million, the project’s price tag has spiked more than 50 percent over previous city projections.

Hughes Group Architects, the group commissioned by the city in May 2014 to undertake a feasibility study for a new aquatic center, projected the estimated cost last November to be $20 million. The firm had cautioned the cost could change as planning progressed.

City officials and members of the public met last week at T.C. Williams’ Minnie Howard campus to hear the architects’ explanation for the cost increase and to discuss the next phase of the feasibility study. To date, two thirds of the $500,000 budgeted for the study has been paid to Hughes Group.

The city’s capital budget currently allows for $20 million to expand the Chinquapin facility. An additional $2.5 million would be raised through a private stakeholder group, Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics.

Group vice-chairwoman Melynda Wilcox was eager to hear an explanation from the consulting group at the meeting.

“There’s no question that this is a setback, and these new numbers are just as surprising to the city staff as they are to us because of the assurances that we had received from the consulting group that the amount of money that the city council had included in the CIP budget would be adequate,” she said.

Renovations to the existing recreation pool and the new 50-meter pool would bring the total cost of the project to $41.7 million.

Consultants said the increase in cost was due to contingencies they needed to include because of the uncertainty of the site. The costs for storm water management, moving utilities and potential soil issues are still unknown.

Staff asked the architectural firm to rework plans to include a smaller 25-meter by 25-yard short course pool instead. The estimated cost for the smaller pool was $20.5 million, much more in line with the capital budget allotment.

But Wilcox said the downsizing the pool was not a viable option.

“[Our group] has never seriously considered a 25-meter pool as an option at Chinquapin because it doesn’t meet our current demand let alone our future needs,” she said. “That’s why [we] will continue to focus on ways that we can get to a 50-meter pool.”

Wilcox said a 50-meter pool has the potential to generate more revenue and makes more sense from an economic standpoint.

The current pool is not a competition-sized pool. It is crowded and cannot accommodate three area high school swim teams, a year round competitive club, swim lessons, lap swimmers and therapy uses.

Barry Marlin, CEO, CFO and team manager of the Potomac Marlins swim team, thinks more water space would be great for teams as diverse as the Marlins, T.C. Williams, veterans’ teams and city-run lessons, among other programs.

“We are all currently competing for the same space during peak hours,” Marlin said. “[Our] ability to expand is currently limited only by the lane space available.  Marlins are currently near capacity in three lanes in the afternoons and our new morning program has maxed out immediately, as we must share limited space with a Masters program [for adults].

“A 50-meter pool would be great for a lot of reasons. It would solve all of the space issues for most of the aquatic programs during peak hours.”

Frank Shafroth, Masters coach for L4 Swimming as well as a long-time Chinquapin coach and booster of the T.C. swim team at Chinquapin’s Rixse memorial pool, has been active in local competitive swimming since Dr. Robert Rixse was his family pediatrician. Shafroth has been swimming at the Hains Point 50-meter outdoor pool in D.C. since 1974 and feels there is a demand for a facility like the one proposed for Chinquapin.

“It has been an honor and absolute delight to swim with swimmers like Katie Ledecky and other Olympic champions, as well as national champions, but also swimmers from Maryland, Virginia and the District, from young teens to early birds in their 90s,” Shafroth said. “Every summer, Hains Point attracts hundreds of swimmers, demonstrating the excitement, interest, and support many of us have for having a year-round 50-meter pool inside the Beltway.

“It is certainly not a fancy pool, but it hosts a sparkling sampling of some of the finest swimmers in the world, surely demonstrating the regional excitement should Alexandria commit to funding this proposed initiative.”

Wilcox, who is also the mother of two T.C. Williams competitive swimmers, would like to find a way to make the 50-meter pool fit into the budget.

“Our organization is in the process of vetting their new estimates with other swimming organizations, and we will continue to push for a 50-meter pool and will look for ways to get there,” she said. “Rather than casting blame at this point, we will be actively looking for solutions.”

City staff have requested Hughes Group pause its analysis until they have reviewed the latest estimates with city council.

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