By William Rivers, Chairman, Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics (File photo)
To the editor:
In the February 11 edition of the Times, you present two different positions on the same issue: a very positive article about the city’s plan to fund the replacement of the Warwick Pool (“Warwick Pool vote goes swimmingly”) and then an editorial saying that the city shouldn’t fund a new 50-meter swimming pool at Chinquapin Park (“Council should apply a business model to government spending decisions”). It’s hard to argue both sides of an issue and maintain credibility.
Your editorial acknowledges that there is merit to a new pool at Chinquapin but that other projects need the funds more. You further state that the city should not be funding a swimming pool and that instead the project should be undertaken by a public-private partnership or it should be paid for in full by a nonprofit organization.
As a matter of fact, the Chinquapin project began as a public-private partnership three years ago. Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics — a group of residents interested in improving aquatics options in Alexandria — has been working with city staff and city council since day one of this project. The city’s 10-year capital budget over the last three years has reflected the need for and the expectation of private sector funding to complete the project. The city and the private sector already are doing what you recommend.
Last year, the Times reported that the new pool at Chinquapin was “dead in the water” because the cost estimate from the city consultants suddenly ballooned from $20 million to $30 million. AAA agreed that the new $30 million price tag was unreasonable, and immediately got to work with city officials and their consultant to find ways to reduce the cost of the new pool.
As presented to city council on February 9, the consultant’s final report shows that the new pool can be built for the budgeted amount of about $22 million, which again includes private sector funds. This represents an $8 million reduction in the expected cost. Nevertheless, your editorial board still questions the need for the city to build the pool. Here are some facts that make the case for it:
• A consultant’s report estimates that the current pool at Chinquapin is only meeting 20 percent of the public need. That means that 80 percent of the residents’ needs are not being met.
• Without more pool space, we cannot provide swimming instruction to all children in Alexandria. This is one of our key goals for having the new pools — to make sure that all of our children have the opportunity to learn a necessary life skill. To use your “air, water and food” analogy, learning to swim is both air and water.
• Our local high school teams cannot hold their home swim meets in Alexandria because the pool at Chinquapin is not regulation size. They must be bussed to Fairfax County and other jurisdictions to host their “home” meets at rented facilities, and in some cases, to hold practices. Earlier this year, when the annual all-city swim meet between T.C. Williams, St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes, Episcopal and Bishop Ireton was being planned, there was serious consideration given to holding the meet at a pool in Arlington because of Chinquapin’s inadequacies.
• The new pool will benefit Alexandria residents, from newborns to octogenarians. Swimming for fitness, recreation or therapy can be done by any age group. Indeed, the additional pool planned for Chinquapin will open the opportunity for a wide array of new therapeutic programs to be offered in the existing pool, which will have a warmer water temperature than the 50-meter pool.
• Because there is only one indoor pool in Alexandria, there are continual conflicts between groups seeking more space with none being satisfied with the existing situation. Both city staff and city councilors are well aware of this situation.
Recreation is one of the basic services expected from a city government, in addition to schools, sewers and the like. Are those next on the list of items that should be funded by nonprofits or the private sector?
We believe that the public-private partnership model for building a new pool at Chinquapin is a prudent and responsible way for the city to address the longstanding neglect of its aquatics facilities and the needs of its citizens.