The long-dormant proposal to build a multimillion-dollar aquatics and fitness facility at Arlington’s Long Bridge Park was revived Tuesday when a citizens’ study committee told the County Board it should move ahead with a smaller complex that keeps costs under control.
Residents strongly support building an indoor, 50-meter pool and another multipurpose pool for recreational use as long as the county prioritizes community needs first, the study found. Space for fitness and exercise equipment in the same structure is also a high priority, the committee said, based on surveys and community meetings.
If there is enough money, it could fund a warm-water therapy pool and a 10-meter diving platform, and a fourth soccer field could be added later.
Gone from the project are 440 spectator seats, a third pool and one of the two community meeting rooms.
The committee, which studied the issue for more than a year, said the county should quickly resume designing a more compact pool and fitness center.
“Our fundamental conclusion is don’t spend a dime more than has already been bonded,” said Tobin Smith, the committee’s chairman.
The pools, workout facility, more parkland and other construction is expected to cost about $64 million — $15 million less than the county budgeted two years ago. Construction bids for the original version of the project came in about a third higher than expected, which led the county to put the project on hold.
County officials had hoped that if the Olympics came to Washington, they could have sold the naming rights to the facility, but the D.C. Olympics bid failed. The county also approached the city of Alexandria about sharing the project, but Alexandria has opted to repair its own Chinquapin pool.
The costly project also became a factor in 2014’s local election campaign.
County Board member John Vihstadt (I), who won that election on the strength of public outrage over the cost of the Long Bridge project and the Columbia Pike streetcar project, which is now defunct, said Tuesday night that he will keep a close eye on costs.
“Let me stipulate that I think we should build an indoor pool at Long Bridge Park,” he said. “For me, it’s a question of costs, frills, amenities, scope and so forth.”
The board did not vote on the committee’s recommendations. Unless it does, it will be up to the county manager to make his recommendation in the budget for capital improvements, which the board will vote on in June.
Two bond elections, in 2004 and 2012, provided the county with the authority to raise most of the money for the aquatics center. Additional revenue for construction came from payments by developers who made cash donations in order to build denser projects than land-use plans allowed.
Long Bridge Park, built atop an abandoned brownfield, features three lighted soccer fields that Marymount University helped pay for and uses. Its esplanade, public art and walkways are popular, and it’s the site of a community gathering on the Fourth of July because of its outstanding views of Washington’s monuments. A children’s play area is being built.
In addition to a fourth soccer field, supporters envision a bridge over the railroad tracks to provide an observation platform at Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary, a pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the George Washington Memorial Parkway to connect with the Mount Vernon Trail, and underground parking at the park. None of that has been funded.
What drove the original costs of the aquatics and fitness center so high, the committee said, were the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems associated with highly energy-efficient systems as well as the roof, doors, windows and finishes for a building that was planned as a notable piece of architecture.
In discussions over the past year, residents supported advanced-energy systems and conservation but shunned iconic or “premium” architecture for the aquatics center.
“The challenge,” the committee’s report said, “thus is to design a facility that costs substantially less and can be built without cost overruns.”
The committee also urged the county to manage costs at every stage of the project through cost-
benefit analyses, proven construction methods and a clear business plan. Arlington could charge admission to the aquatics center to help raise more funds, as Fairfax County does. All of the District’s pools are free for residents, Smith noted.
He suggested that a local hospital might want to sponsor the warm-water therapy pool, and a college with a diving team might help pay for a diving platform.