News that rising cost estimates and construction bids have put the Long Bridge Park aquatics center in danger of being downsized or scrapped has been gleefully seized upon by critics of the planned facility this week.
With construction bids well exceeding the $80 million projected cost — of just the first phase of the aquatics and fitness center project, also referred to as Phase 2 of Long Bridge Park — critics says it’s too grand a project for Arlington County, with its eroding commercial tax base. However, supporters say it’s well worth the investment.
Here’s a Letter to the Editor from Eric Cassel, President of the Friends of Long Bridge Park organization.
Many facts about Phase 2 at Long Bridge Park have been forgotten in the past few weeks and as everyone takes a breath, it would be timely to restate the great need for the next phase and three of the reasons why it has been proposed.
1) Three major groups will use the pool and each group is projected to increase greatly in the coming years. Elementary age children, local young adults and the elderly are the primary target audience for the Aquatics center. All three groups are projected to increase significantly in the next 20 years.
First, the schools have made a great case that elementary school students are already increasing and creating a demand for facilities. That means the number of small children who need a place to play and a location to learn to swim have and will increase. Having tons of elementary school kids ‘playing’ in the high school pools cannot happen. The two age groups have significantly different needs (for example water temperature) and significantly different type of pool needs. Thus the increasing demand from elementary students will not be able to be accommodated by the high school pools.
Second, in the Crystal City/Pentagon City/Rosslyn area the number of households is expected to increase in significantly more than the rest of the county. The increase in housing units near Metro stations is almost all condo/apartments. These units are very attractive to the Young Urban Adult population. To give everyone an idea the following table shows the dramatic increase in housing units near Long Bridge Park:
How much additional time can the local schools schedule in the high school pools for this additional young adult activity? Or is the county going to ignore the recreational needs of young adults?
Lastly, the Center will also provide aquatics and fitness facilities and times for the fast growing older adult population. Currently no facility in the county provides a lazy river for seniors to walk against the current. In addition, the classes for seniors are offered when the schools can provide time in their pools—not at other times that seniors would prefer and even at these restricted times, the few classes are waitlisted. Lastly there is no public therapy pool in the county for classes and health of seniors. Arlington County should provide these recreational and wellness facilities for seniors.
Thus, all three groups: elementary children, young adults and seniors are the target audiences for the facility.
2) Main Swimming Pools
The Arlington County Master plan specifically recommends that the park be developed and was based on a comprehensive and expert analysis of the physical assets and the demand for services. Instead of looking at just a few individuals’ anecdotal opinions, it is important to gather the facts, and look at the demand/supply balance. Expert data and research have shown the demand for swimming is significantly greater than the supply. Demand and supply studies, information from the county on demand for pool time and the class demand all show a supply/demand imbalance that Phase 2 has been planned to address.
As a result of this study and an impressive community input process with almost 100 public meetings, the proposed phases of Long Bridge Park were developed. These phases were designed to be complementary and increase the value of the park over time.
3) Outdoor Facilities at Long Bridge Park
One of the features of the park is the increased space for events, passive recreation and pedestrian/bike access to the Mt. Vernon trail. These outdoor features are part of the cost of the park and provide a significant increase in the facilities for the county.
The park will be the site of medium sized events, like ethnic festivals, sporting events and smaller local concerts. No place in the county will be able to hold such events with the ease that will be possible at Long Bridge Park. The site is being equipped for events by having outdoor electric outlets, additional bathrooms and physical support facilities.
The increased length of the esplanade will provide joggers, walkers and bikers with a longer, better views of the monuments, the airport, the trains and the Potomac River and more outdoor features. All of these outdoor features are part of the cost, upkeep and resources that the county should provide its residents. We cannot be a world-class community, without providing some basic outdoor recreation to our residents.
The three reasons for Phase 2 are:
The target populations are increasing and currently underserved,
The demand for the main swimming pools has been shown to be greater than the supply,
The outdoor facilities provide needed recreation and open space
The next phase of Long Bridge Park is necessary to fulfill Open Space Master Plan and to offer needed recreational, fitness and wellness needs for the full range of populations and ages in Arlington County.
Eric Cassel President, Friends of Long Bridge Park