Warwick Pool overhaul vote goes swimmingly

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Warwick Pool overhaul vote goes swimmingly
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By Chris Teale (File photo)

City council voted unanimously at a public hearing last month to overhaul the Warwick Pool with a new facility that could cost upwards of $2.1 million, though a timeline for construction remains to be determined.

The pool closed in 2014 after years of neglect. Athletics and aquatics advocates in Alexandria have since pushed to see the 3301 Landover St. facility reopen, voicing concerns that the city has failed to properly promote water sports.

The agreement will green light between $1.6 and $2.1 million in spending for an overhauled Warwick Pool. Vice Mayor Justin Wilson, who in 2014 fielded calls from an angry constituent after water drained from the pool into neighboring yards, praised the project.

“I’m excited that we’re finally at this point, excited that we’re moving to a new life for this pool,” Wilson said. “I think the community will be extremely excited and appreciative.”

Early plans recommend demolishing the two-story structure currently at the site, and a single-story facility rising from its ashes. The pool basin also will be completely replaced, due in part to the fact that the city says it leaks 6,000 gallons of water a day when full. The fiscal 2016 10-year capital budget plans for $2.15 million to be allocated for the project during fiscal 2017.

Warwick Pool was first built in 1958 and has been operated by the city’s department of parks, recreation and cultural activities since 1978.

The January 30 vote came at the end of a months-long process involving engineering and environmental services consulting firm Cardno, Inc. The firm put forward three options for the pool, including a renovation of the existing facility, which would have cost between $2.4 million and $2.8 million, or a full replacement, which was projected to cost between $2.1 million and $2.8 million.

The current two-story structure at the pool consists of changing rooms and pool maintenance equipment on the ground floor and a meeting space for local groups on the second story.

And while the consultants acknowledged in their final report that a one-story structure will mean the Warwick Village Citizens Association can no longer use the building for its meetings, it said the focus on being an aquatics facility first and foremost is more cost effective and prevents issues that may arise from renovating an old building.

“Taking this approach not only reduces overall costs, but it also avoids the inherent risks associated with attempting to retrofit aging structures,” the report reads. “More importantly, undertaking a new design and construction provides the city with the opportunity to reassess the facility’s mission so that the design can be optimized for its purpose.”

City Councilor Paul Smedberg said that while relocating might be frustrating for the civic association, the need for a functioning aquatics facility was greater.

“To me personally, having a well-maintained playground and the pool and a one-story building is a far more important priority than getting a second floor and [spending] an additional $800,000 so there could be a monthly meeting,” he said. “There are other buildings nearby that people can use. There’s one of the trade-offs.”

Even so, James Spengler, director of the city department of parks, recreation and cultural activities, said the community — including the civic association — understood the city’s needs and limitations. City Councilor Del Pepper asked earlier if the civic association had raised concerns, as she said it was used for more than just neighborhood meetings.

“Everyone’s priority is to have a pool there,” he said. “Everyone’s priority is not to have a meeting space there.”

Bill Rivers, chairman of Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics, said after the hearing that while there is plenty of work to be done, and the design phase must be done expediently to ensure a summer 2017 opening, it was an encouraging first step.

“It’s the most significant pay-off we’ve seen in our three years of working as a lobbying group, for want of a better term,” he said. “We’re appreciative that council put money into the CIP plan for not only Warwick and for Chinquapin [Park], but this is the first tangible evidence that we’re going to get a new pool, which reverses the trend of everything being closed.”

Smedberg also pushed his colleagues to be mindful of the aquatic needs on Alexandria’s West End, where residents often complain they miss out on city services. He argued for a more comprehensive rebuilding plan.

“If we have this pool, we have the Old Town Pool and we have Chinquapin, it leaves almost a third of the city without a pool, in the West End,” he said. “Strategically, how we move forward from this decision here today changes that mix a bit in terms of what we have to consider for a plan. But we really do have to come to a decision at some point on what we do.”

Strategic planning for pools is an ongoing process, one that Smedberg told the Times last September the city has wrestled with for years.

“We’ve been struggling with how we tackle pools in general,” he said at the time. “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.”

But redoing Warwick Pool received plenty of accolades from those on the dais.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said City Councilor Willie Bailey. “I grew up in that area, still live in that area. I don’t go swimming anymore, really, but it’s so nice to see the kids having somewhere to go. That end of the city, there’s really no pool, there’s no aquatic facility there. I believe this is really well done.”

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