On Monday, at the RCA Board meeting, our primary topic of discussion was one of Reston’s hottest issues: the RCC proposal to construct a new rec center
It’s no surprise that this was one of our most spirited meetings ever.
We emerged with a new report that takes a hard look at the questions we
need to answer before we decide whether and how to proceed with a rec
center, a resolution calling for much more community input
in the process, and a proposal for achieving that input.
Our report, The Reston Recreation Center Initiative: Unanswered Questions on Need, Facilities, Location, Financing, and Decision Making
was drafted by our stellar analyst Terry Maynard. The paper spotlights
issues that haven’t been resolved yet in the rec center proposal, and
raises questions for further exploration. These questions include:
If you’re familiar with RCC’s long waiting
lists for popular programs (especially in aquatics) and the heavy usage
of its facilities, the need for a new facility may seem like a
no-brainer, particularly with the new residents coming with the Metro
. But those new residents mean that Reston will have other needs too.
We’ll need new schools
We’ll need updated and expanded public facilities, such as a new
library. We’ll need to maintain RA’s aging infrastructure, and likely
provide new amenities as well. And as RCA has stated repeatedly, we’ll
need major transportation improvements
to keep Reston moving and preserve our quality of life.
Unfortunately, we can’t afford to build everything we might want.
Given that, where does a new rec center fall in our list of priorities?
Should public funding be used to meet the demand for new indoor
recreation space, or will private recreation and fitness providers be
The updated market survey that’s due on June 3rd
provide insight on the second question. But the first question can only
be answered through a community-wide discussion of priorities.
Facilities and Services:
If we do build a rec center, what should be in it
The centerpiece of the rec center proposal is an indoor pool. Should
it be a 25-yard pool (like the one RCC has currently), or a 50-meter pool
Should a leisure pool or a therapy pool also be included? What about
weight rooms or gymasiums? What about meeting rooms? Should we include
features targeted at seniors (such as reading rooms) and youth (such as
a game room?
In general, we believe that the new rec center, if it’s built, should
be as comprehensive as we can make it. Whatever we build will need to
meet our community’s needs for decades to come. We should be as
forward-looking as possible in thinking about future demand. Hopefully,
the updated market survey can provide some guidance here as well.
This has been the most contentious issue so far, with many speakers at the public hearings opposing the idea of building at Baron Cameron Park
which has been discussed. RCC says that they have made no decisions on
the location, but the Baron Cameron option is the only one presented so
far. According to RCC representatives at our Monday meeting, they have
not conducted a systematic study of alternative locations.
Our paper presented options that could be plausible alternatives: at Tall Oaks
on FCPA land near the North County Government Center, at Isaac Newton
Square, and in the southwest corner of Lake Fairfax Park. Surely there
are others. Maybe some won’t prove to be feasible, but the only way to
know is to fully evaluate the options. Our paper also proposes criteria
for evaluating potential sites.
Currently, RCC proposes to build the facility using
their existing Small Tax District #5. Most other public recreation
centers in Fairfax County, however, were built and funded using the
County-wide real estate tax, and maintained by the Park Authority.
One possibility would be to lobby the County to build the rec center,
as they have done elsewhere. But that would mean waiting at least a
decade – and maybe more – before County capital funds became available.
Do we want to wait that long, or is this a high enough priority that we
in Reston should fund it ourselves?
Other factors may come into play. For instance, how many Restonians
vs. non-Restonians are expected to use the rec center? If it will be
used predominantly by non-Restonians, perhaps County funding makes more
sense. If we do use Small District 5, would adding the facility require
raising the current tax rate? The expected influx of new residents and
businesses will provide more revenue within the current rate, but will
the growth be enough to offset the costs?
The updated market survey should provide help here as well. In
addition to providing updated estimates of how much the rec center might
cost, it will also give us an idea of how much of the center’s
operating budget might need to be subsidized by Reston taxpayers.
If Small Tax District #5 is to be used to
fund the rec center, the RCC Board will make the decision to proceed or
not. And ultimately, the citizens of Reston will have the final say, as
they would vote on the rec center bond referendum.
But before we reach that point, much more community input is needed,
to answer the questions described above and more. I give RCC credit for
soliciting public input earlier in the process compared to the Brown’s
Chapel proposal in 2009, and they’ve done quite a bit of preliminary
research to get us to this point. But the issues we’ve discussed above
impact all of Reston, and we need a community-wide conversation.
Involving the entire community in the discussion also makes it more
likely that the bond referendum, if one occurs, would pass.
How do we hold that community-wide conversation? Our recommendation
is for a panel with representatives from RCC, RCA, and the Reston
Association to review the options (including the questions asked above),
take in the full breadth of community opinion, and recommend a proposal
that would provide the best possible outcome for Reston. At the
meeting, Terry cited the example of Aurora, Illinois, which convened a
task force with a broad cross-section of community representatives
working in concert to generate a proposal for its rec center. I like
that model of widespread participation.
Whatever model we choose, we should ensure that the whole community
is represented in the discussion, and that there are multiple
opportunities for them to speak and be heard on this issue. A series of
community forums throughout Reston would be a good way to gather this
If you’d like to know more about our recommendations, you can read our report in full here
And rest assured that we at RCA are far from done talking about this;
we’re going to continue studying the issue, debating it, and pushing for
a process that generates the best outcome for the community.