Joint aquatics venture between City of Alexandria and Arlington County under consideration

Joint aquatics venture between City of Alexandria and Arlington County under consideration

By Chris Teale (File photo)

When a consultant prepared a report on the state of aquatics facilities in Alexandria last year, one of the more troubling findings for some was that only about 20 percent of swimmers were being provided for and 80 percent going elsewhere. With capacity problems and maintenance issues plaguing many of the city’s existing pools, the report found that a dramatic investment needs to be made in aquatics.

City officials announced last month that a joint facility with Arlington County is under consideration either at Chinquapin Park or at Long Bridge Park in Arlington, and residents will be asked in the city’s annual parks and recreation needs assessment survey for feedback on a possible joint venture with their peers to the north.

“We often look for innovative approaches to meet community needs,” said City Manager Mark Jinks in a statement. “Although we’re far from the point of any specific negotiations or design specifications, we’re pleased to be exploring partnership opportunities with Arlington that could benefit everyone involved.”

Earlier this year, city officials were given pause when a study of their proposal to build a new Olympic-sized pool at Chinquapin Park Recreation Center came in at $30.7 million, well over the $20 million initially budgeted for the project. And Arlington put its own plans for a pool at Long Bridge Park on hold in 2013 after bids for the project similarly came in over budget.

A 50-meter pool is the standard in competitive swimming all the way up to the Olympics, but with the capacity issues that plague the city’s aquatics facilities, a full-sized pool would not be used for only competition but also a wide variety of recreational uses to accommodate more residents.

“It’s one of those things where we’ve taken to calling it a 50-meter multi-use pool,” said Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics chairman Bill Rivers. “It’s to allow us to have, in effect, 20 to 25 more lanes for people to swim in or for our scuba people to train in or [for] water polo. You could do water aerobics for seniors at one end; you could do lap swimming and recreational swimming. We even have people who want to do kayak training at Chinquapin.”

The only indoor pool open in the city is at Chinquapin, with outdoor pools open in Old Town and at the Charles Houston Recreation Center. The Warwick Pool at 3301 Landover St. is closed this summer, with a new one set to be built and open next year. City Councilor Paul Smedberg said a strategy for aquatics is something the city has wrestled with for years.

“We’ve been struggling with how we tackle pools in general,” he said. “We have some that are aging, some in good shape and just need maintenance, others that could be in good shape if they had a little more extensive maintenance and repair.”

Smedberg said any joint venture must be examined in great detail by both sides before any final decision is made, especially to ensure that Alexandria residents get value for their money. He lamented the city’s announcement of the proposal, coming as it did on August 13, fearing it perhaps gave residents the wrong impression of how far along talks are about any joint effort.

“I want to make sure that, before anything goes forward, we’re clear in mind as to how we see it, how Arlington sees it, and what are the expectations,” Smedberg said. “There are a lot of details that have to be worked out. I think there are a lot of questions, and I don’t want to certainly sacrifice anything from our perspective as it relates to pools for our residents that would have to be pushed off because we’re spending money on this joint project. That’s not to say it isn’t worth exploring, but I just think it has to be balanced and in the context of an overall aquatics plan for the city.”

Rivers, too, said he is unconvinced by the proposal, especially if it involves Alexandria taxes subsidizing a pool at Long Bridge. He said that if there can be a way to ensure the relationship is as balanced and fair as possible, perhaps even expanding it to all recreation facilities, it could work well.

“Our thinking was, we wanted more reciprocity, more of an equal footing where maybe they would invest in the Alexandria 50-meter pool or whatever,” Rivers said. “Work with Arlington, like the library systems. Why not have Arlington and Alexandria recognize resident passes — we can use their aquatics facilities, they can use ours — and even expand it to all recreation facilities.

“We have [the Kelley Cares] Miracle Field [at the Nannie J. Lee Recreation Center] that Arlington doesn’t have that is used for special needs kids. It would be great to have them come over and use it, and similarly maybe we could use some of their new facilities in Long Bridge.”

To muddy the waters further, a proposal came forward in July from the Northern Virginia Parks Authority for alterations to Cameron Run Regional Park, which the authority operates. Under its plan, the authority would extend its lease and look to acquire the historic “Murray’s Livery” property at 517 Prince St. to preserve it with the profits from the park.

The authority proposed removing the Great Waves Waterpark and replacing it with a 50-meter pool, but Rivers is hopeful that a compromise could be found that would involve both facilities, especially as it would cost approximately $13 million to install an Olympic pool at the site. It presents another interesting scenario for city leaders, who have plenty to consider and will have even more on their minds following feedback from the fall needs assessment survey.