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Alexandria Contemplates New Swimming Pools

City consultants say old facilities are near the end of their lifespan.

Consultants tapped to look at the city's aging public swimming and wading pools have recommended the city replace them at a capital cost of nearly $50 million.

The consultant team of Kimley-Horn and Counsilman-Hunsaker said the plan would create new pools with life expectancies of 30 to 50 years, triple annual attendance to more than 300,000 people, raise operating costs to $3.5 million, increase annual revenues to $2.7 million and reduce annual operating subsidies due to the increase in visitors.

The Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities hosted a public meeting on Wednesday at the to review the findings of the City of Alexandria Aquatics Facilities Study. The recommendations include:

  • A new Old Town Medium Family Aquatic Center at a cost of $5.5 million;
  • A new Warwick Sprayground at a cost of $2.5 million;
  • A new West Side Medium Family Aquatic Center at a cost of $5.3 million, not including costs for infrastructure or demolition to prepare the site;
  • A new Ewald Sprayground at a cost of $2 million;
  • A new Chinquapin Recreation Pool with a 25 yard by 25 meter competitive pool and leisure pool at a cost of $28 million;
  • A new Lee Indoor Wellness and Therapy Pool at a cost of $3.4 million;
  • A new Colasanto Interactive Fountain at a cost of $832,000; and
  • A continuation of the to be an outreach or higher-subsidized pool.

The city currently operates one indoor and six outdoor pools, two of which are closed and another of which, Ewald, is slated to be closed. Most of these have outdated infrastructure, do not meet current codes and lack enhanced water recreation facilities, the city’s consultants said.

Jim Spengler, director of the city’s Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, said the study provides a guide for future capital improvement programs to be implemented over a 15-year period.

“It’s fairly typical from a standpoint, if you look at roadways, how often do you see a roadway being built or made bigger?” he said. “So to think over a 50-year period of time you do nothing to make a pool better, or that needs from swimming have changed over time, then it wouldn’t happen with any other type of facility.”

Mark Hatchel with Kimley-Horn said the aquatics study included meeting with neighborhood associations, residents, competitive swim groups, instructors, pool users, the Health Department and local schools.

Hatchel said a 2011 needs assessment found an existing unmet need for both indoor and outdoor facilities. There is a 300 person wait list for spring swim lessons and insufficient capacity for summer day camps.

Kevin Post with Counsilman-Hunsaker said the recommended planning would occur in four phases. First, Old Town Pool would be replaced with the Medium Family Aquatic Center, Warwick would be upgraded and minimum repairs would be made to Chinquapin. In the second phase, a West Side pool would be added and Ewald would be upgraded.

During the third phase, Chinquapin would be replaced. The fourth phase would entail replacing Lee and upgrading Colasanto.

Hatchel said costs could be augmented by higher user fees with a blend of rates, including different rates for city residents and nonresidents and membership deals.

“If you build a nice new facility, even with an increase of $3 to $6 dollars, it’s still just the cost of buying a Happy Meal at McDonald's, and they can leverage that by buying a season pass,” he said. “… There are plenty of opportunities for people who use the pool a lot to save.”

During the public meeting, concerns from the audience included availability of parking at the pools, the timing and sequence of the improvements and new construction, availability of swim lanes during peak times, the potential for diving board amenities, the option of expanding pool hours and the lack of consistency in pool hours.

Post said if the city takes no action, the pools have a lifespan of the next five to 10 years at the most. Hatchel said pools can usually be rebuilt during the off-season when the facilities are closed.

To date, the city has not allocated any funds for the proposed pools.

For more information, visit the city's Recreational Parks and Cultural Activities webpage.

Joseph M. April 27, 2012 at 08:00 PM
So we were able to afford pools in the 1960s but not in the 2010s? I think city pools are a good resource and the infrastructure should be replaced - IF people are projected to use them. It wouldn't surprise me that people are less willing to swim in public pools now than they would have been in the 1950s.
Kim Moore April 28, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Updating some of the pools seems like a good idea. The entire project as noted in the article is too extensive. What exactly is a wellness or therapy pool? Chinquapin has a ramp. Would this create an additional pool with therapy access at Lee Center? I did not know that Lee Center had a pool. Would this be new? My kids love going to the Cameron St. pool. The crowd at Warwick Pool is large, but a spray ground may be money that we can save for now. I would rather see kids play in a pool and develop swimming skills. Agree on the consultant issue. Is there some way that the city could either hire or re-write an existing job description so that these types of studies are done in-house? Consultants are cheaper since they do not get benefits and are paid for short-term projects, but we seem to be hiring them for virtually every potential project. Surely, a talented civic planner could oversee multiple studies. At the right salary, it would be far cheaper than constantly paying for independent insight.
Rob M. April 28, 2012 at 02:46 AM
I'm with Joseph M. My hometown of 26K people has a nice outdoor pool and an indoor one too, also built in the 50s or 60s. Surely our town of 140K can support several outdoor pools, etc. and find a way to allocate the resources over a number of years to make it happen, without raising taxes. Looks like a plan worth working toward to me.
Bruce April 28, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Surely this City can find a way for as many neighborhoods as possible to have easy access to recreational facilities, especially pools. Residents, especially children out of school for the summer, should have the opportunity to easily walk or ride a bicycle to a pool. Let's do our best to keep as many pools open for the sake of promoting healthy activities for everyone.
Scott April 29, 2012 at 04:19 AM
I think replacing the pools as recommended by the study is a good idea because it will enhance the quality of life for Alexandrians. At the public meeting the consultants made it abundantly clear that most of Alexandria’s pools have outdated infrastructure that does not meet current standards and that the pools are reaching the end of their functional and physical life expectancy. While replacing the pools as recommended in the study is expensive, this option seemed to give the best overall value for taxpayer dollars based on criteria such as increased life expectancy of the pools (5-10 years vs. 30-50 years), significantly lower operating subsidy the city would have to pay per visit ($9.17 vs. $3.25), and 2.5 times higher attendance (120,000 vs. 307,325). The other three options presented were Do Nothing, Maintain As-Is, and Replace-As-Is. Replacing the pools as recommended in the study would cost $48 million. However, the cost seems more acceptable when compare to the cost of just Maintain As-Is which is $23.5 million and comes with a short life expectancy of only 5-10 years, lower attendance of 120,000, and a higher city operating subsidy of $9.17 per visit. Hopefully, City Council has the foresight to move forward with the recommendations.

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