Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Two area communities don't think a recreation center swimming pool is worth it.

Two recent local newspaper articles highlight the decisions by two other area communities NOT to go forward with plans to build indoor swimming pools at their recreation centers--almost exclusively because of the cost.  But Reston Community Center officials and the Fairfax County Park Authority are intent in seeing Restonians approve a costly and under-utilized aquatic center (even though most of the users will not be Restonians) paid for by Restonians at Baron Cameron Park as part of the Park Authorities plan for that park.

Neighboring Vienna's Town Council voted down a proposal to include a pool in its renovation of the community's recreation Center.  Here's how the decision was reported by the Sun-Gazette on January 8:
BRIAN TROMPETER, Staff Writer 
Echoing a consensus hinted at several weeks earlier, a majority of Vienna Town Council members indicated Jan. 6 that they did not want designers to include a swimming pool while developing architectural and engineering plans for the soon-to-be-renovated Vienna Community Center.
Council members agreed that the project’s first phase should include construction of a full-sized gymnasium and completion of much-needed renovations at the facility, which opened in 1966. The current gymnasium is underused because it is too small, said Mayor M. Jane Seeman.
“I see the gym as a need and the pool as a want,” she said. “I’m not willing to have future Council members incur that kind of debt.”
Three taxpayer-financed pools are located not far from Vienna, said Council member Michael Polychrones.
Council member Edythe Kelleher added that because Vienna is a small community, it cannot benefit from economies of scale available to larger jurisdictions, such as Fairfax County.
Opponents opined that the pool’s likely construction and maintenance costs would strain Vienna’s bonding capacity and might force town officials to forgo other crucial initiatives. . . .
The decision by the Vienna Town Council marks a well informed, fiscally responsible decision reflecting their assessment of the value of a new indoor pool for the community versus the high costs of both construction and operation.   Like Reston's special tax district, the Vienna council acknowledge that it "a small community (that) cannot benefit from economies of scale available to larger jurisdictions, such as Fairfax County.  Nonetheless, Reston Community Center officials are going ahead with proposing a $35-40 million-plus aquatic center that its consultant says will cost the equally "small" community of Reston.  (And this is before either an architectural assessment or a construction proposal, each of which--as in Arlington--will drive the project cost higher.)   According to the consultant's June 2013, the annual operating cost will run between $1.8-2.1 million over the first five years while the capital costs will add $2.8 million per year to the cost, largely paid by Reston tax payers.

And nearby Arlington County reversed an earlier decision to build a planned aquatics center at Long Bridge Park after projected costs escalated out of sight.  The Washington Post reported the following on January 3:


Construction bids for Arlington County’s planned aquatics center at Long Bridge Park came in "significantly higher” than expected, County Manager Barbara Donnellan said Friday, as she announced that she will not take the bids to the County Board.
Donnellan had expected to move the project forward this winter, but she said in a statement released Friday afternoon that the bids “came in significantly higher than our architects’ estimates.” After the county staff assesses those bids and its own estimates, she said, “I will present options to the County Board for next steps.” . .
Arlington voters approved a bond measure in November 2012 that allowed the county to spend about $40 million on the design and construction of the 50-meter competition pool, teaching, family and therapy pools, as well as “wet classrooms/party rooms” and an indoor fitness area. The project, an expansion of a two-year-old park of soccer fields built atop a former industrial site full of toxic waste, was expected to cost almost $80 million. . .
Last month, the county boosted its estimate of what it would cost each year to operate the aquatics center, from about $1.5 million to $4 million, according to projections included in the manager’s budget forecast. . . .
Long Bridge Park Digital Rendering
Rendering of proposed Long Bridge Aquatics Center from Arlington County Parks & Recreation website. 
(Arlington Director Jane) Rudolph explained that the original numbers published in the 2012 Capital Improvement Plan were in “2012 numbers,” whereas the new estimate is adjusted for inflation with “2020 numbers.” The statement reads, in part, “The 2012 tax support number — of $1.1 to $1.4 million if presented at a 2020 level would range from $1.4 million to $1.9 million. The 2020 tax support number presented in the November 2013 revenue and expense forecast ($4.3 million) was at the maximum of the range (as it should have been). The apples to apples increase in estimates is $2.4 million.”
In her statement, Rudolph lists the following factors as reasons for the increase:
  • “Once we had final design drawings for the facility, we were able to more fully develop the aquatics program and determine the appropriate level of lifeguards to meet safety sightlines for maximum utilization of the four pool areas while maintaining industry standards. As a result, the estimated cost of lifeguards increased.”
  • “The current projections assume full staffing by maintenance during each hour of pool operation. We are not sure that this will be the final approach. This added considerable cost.”
  • “The projected revenue in the November estimate is less than that included in the 2012 CIP. We have researched similar facilities, looked at the attendance data, and came to a conservative approach to our revenue projections for membership, daily passes, and rentals. We hope that this strategy enables us to be pleasantly surprised when we open our doors to the community.”
None of the assessments or forecasts carried out by the RCC, its Board of Governors, or its consultant (Brailsford & Dunleavey) have even begun to consider these cost escalators to construction and operation of a new recreation center in Reston.

The RCC Board of Governors with the complicity of the Fairfax County Park Authority is on the way to sticking Reston taxpayers with an over-priced, under-utilized aquatics center at the wrong location--Baron Cameron Park. 

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