A Northern Virginia community group, which ran the Olympic-size outdoor pool alongside Shirley Highway in western Alexandria, yesterday ran out of money to keep the facility open and the pool--a neighborhood institution for nearly three decades--closed, perhaps for good.
The family that owns the Northern Virginia Athletics and Aquatics Center said the property and its two parking lots may be sold to developers.
"We'd rather keep it as a swimming-club pool," said Wilda Malcolm of Alexandria, whose husband developed the five-acre site into a pool in 1956. "But it depends on who comes up with the money."
After rebuilding the pool's membership rolls three times during the past five summers, the pool association's board of directors fell 150 short of the 600 memberships needed to keep the pool, located at 1151 N. Van Dorn St., open all summer.
"Those of us with young children are devastated because we swam here as young children," said Donna Smith, who made her first splash in the pool two years after it opened and now, as a mother of four, is leading a drive to enlist the support of Alexandria city officials to reopen the pool next summer. The city, however, is unlikely to be receptive because it has begun construction of an indoor swimming pool nearby.
Smith is circulating two petitions, one asking the Alexandria City Council and city zoning board to maintain the site's recreational zoning while residents seek a purchaser for the land, which she said is being offered for $1.5 million.
Her second petition, a backup to the first, asks the city to purchase and operate the pool if residents can't find a buyer. The petitions each have about 200 signatures, Smith said.
"My mother said that if crying a river of tears would save the pool, she would do it," said Lillie Richardson, 32, whose mother and father were expected to join their daughter and two grandchildren at the pool yesterday. Richardson's parents have been swimming at the pool since it opened.
"This is a place where you can make some real solid friendships," said Richardson as she held her 2-year-old son at the poolside. "We don't cross any other paths except here."
"I just love it," said Richardson's 4-year-old son Danny.
Lou Sharp, swim coach at the pool and a member of the pool board, said the facility, which also includes a small pool, a gym and Nautilus weight machines, trains many young swimmers, including Erin Jones, 11, who won first place in three events at the U.S. Youth Games this summer and holds 19 records for her age group in the Washington area.
It was the strokes of swim team members during a swim-a-thon last week that raised $500 to $600 that kept the pool open for its final day.
"I wish it would stay open," said 12-year-old Jennifer DeVille of Fairfax, who was saddened that her two-hour, two-mile swim during the swim-a-thon wasn't enough to keep the pool open for the remainder of the summer. "It's a great pool and it gives us something to do during the summer instead of driving my mother crazy."
Earlier in the afternoon, Sharp was digging up rose bushes near the pool and giving them to the parents and children.
"I'd rather see them get a good home than see them get plowed under," said Sharp.