By William Rivers, chairman, Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics
To the editor:
Thank you for the March 5 article (“Chinquapin Olympic pool dead in the water?”) and the March 12 editorial (“Chinquapin pool price isn’t just sticker shock”) on the proposed new pool at Chinquapin Park Recreation Center & Aquatics Facility. You have helped to focus attention on a critical project for the city.
The Ewald, Lee and Colasanto pools all have been closed in recent years. Warwick will not open this summer, and most of the remaining swimming pools in the city are deteriorating. A study shows that the city is only meeting 20 percent of the swimming demand with the current facility at Chinquapin. All of this has been known to citizens and to city leaders.
Our group — the Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics (AAA) — has been working with city staff and city council over the past three years to develop a solution to the problem. Council approved $23 million in long-range capital funds in 2012 to address the need to rebuild our aquatics infrastructure.
We are now approaching the implementation stage for these improvements, including the new pool at Chinquapin, which would probably be better described as a 20-lane multipurpose pool than an Olympic pool. It would rarely be used in its 50-meter configuration. It would be much more likely to be used with the 20-plus lanes crosswise or for aerobics, scuba training, water polo, etc. The current pool at Chinquapin is not nearly large enough to meet the demand.
But regardless of the name, Hughes Group Architects’ cost estimates came as a shock to our group, the swimming public and I’m sure to city staff. But rather than despair over the potential loss of a pool, AAA immediately developed a four-prong approach to solve the financial crisis and make a multipurpose pool possible.
• First, we advocate looking at various different types of pool materials, which might be less expensive than the traditional brick and mortar used by the consultant.
• Second, we also suggest a close examination of the cost estimates to determine if savings are attainable in the proposed brick-and-mortar structure.
• Third is to have city council discuss the potential of a joint venture with Arlington County. As you correctly pointed out, they have problems with their swimming project and we have problems with ours. Can we work together to build shared facilities that could benefit residents of both jurisdictions?
• Fourth is to raise private sector funds. City council saw the wisdom of that early in the process and asked us to raise at least $2.5 million in private money for Chinquapin.
As part of our effort, we met with Hughes Group and city staff this week to present these ideas. We will be writing to Acting City Manager Mark Jinks asking him to adjust the existing contract with Hughes to identify the costs of alternative structures, as well as what cost savings would be possible in the current proposed structure. We will concurrently continue to encourage cooperation with Arlington and seek to raise private funds.
You have called on Mr. Jinks to get involved to solve the problem. We are taking the same approach by asking him to explore these other alternatives.
We expect to reach a solution and build a new pool at Chinquapin. Mr. Jinks and other capable staff members in the city will help, just as city council will help. We hope to see a future article in your paper describing how a collaborative effort solved a pressing need for the city.