The Alexandria School Board decided last night, at a meeting that turned into a sparring match with members of the City Council, to scale down plans and costs of the proposed boathouse on the city's Potomac waterfront.
Last Wednesday the board voted to ask the council for $1.7 million to build a two-story, 17,000-square-foot facility for the T.C. Williams High crew team.
Since then the board has been besieged by criticism. Taxpayers called complaining of extravagance aimed at benefiting the 200 oarsmen who would use the boathouse and said the money would be better spent on teachers and textbooks. Council member Donald Casey called the plan fiscally irresponsible.
Board Chairman Lou Cook convened last night's special meeting to discuss the issue and emphasized that the board did not want to build the new facility in the first place.
The council voted to demolish the present boathouse next to the old Torpedo Factory on Cameron Street to extend the waterfront redevelopment project. The city Planning Commission has approved a restaurant and specialty shops for that site.
Because of the necessity of relocating, Cook said, the board has little control over the price tag of an adequate new facility, which will be built at the foot of Madison Street.
Council member Robert L. Calhoun said at last night's meeting that he did not believe the council will approve any facility costing more than $1 million. He asked the board if it wanted to pitch "this hot potato back at the City Council. I don't think the board should be put to any more agony over this. I think council should assume the responsibility of acquiring a building design that could fit into the money that is budgeted."
Last May the council approved $956,000 for the project. When architects recently adjusted their cost estimates, they increased the price by $775,000, citing soil conditions that would require additional steel pilings.
"This is turning into a mad dog that needs to be shot," Calhoun said after offering to take over responsibility of finding an affordable location and design.
The School Board, wary that the council might have different ideas than the board of what a safe, adequate crew facility is, declined Calhoun's offer.
Cook said she would officially inform the council next Tuesday of the board's decision to go back to the architect and ask if a $1 million facility is possible.
Gregory S. Lukmire of the Fairfax County architect firm of LBC&W, designers of the building, attended the meeting and told a reporter later that nothing more than a storage facility, possibly one story high and without lockers, toilets and an exercise room "might possibly" built for $1 million.