Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Several weeks ago the news broke that the annual operating subsidy Arlington would have to provide to the Aquatics Center had ballooned from $1.9 million to $3.8 million. Just three years ago, the County’s “high” estimate of the annual operating subsidy was $450,000.
On Dec. 12, I recommended that the County Board direct the County Manager to “halt all further work on the Aquatics Center… and develop a new, cost-effective design for a sensible recreation center at Long Bridge Park (including a swimming pool).” Little did I know when I wrote that December column that the construction bids to build this facility also would come in so much higher than anticipated.
In the face of more and more new information about the vastly higher operating and capital costs of this facility, it is very disappointing that some of our current elected leaders, and some of those who want to succeed them, stubbornly cling to the belief that all of the design elements in this project are sacrosanct.
For example, ARLnow.com quotes County Board Chair Jay Fisette as attempting to justify his continued support for the project because “more than a decade was spent on the Center’s design” and “exaggerations about the exact extent of the cost increases have been ‘celebrated by long-time opponents of the facility.’”
Our elected leaders should be offering us a contrite acknowledgement that despite over a decade of planning, they have allowed the current design to proceed laden with so many extravagant features. Planning should be judged by the wisdom of the final decision—not the length of time it takes to make it. In the new normal of Arlington’s economy, with 20 percent commercial office vacancy rates and our public schools bursting at the seams, sticking with the current design is a luxury we cannot afford.
Similarly out of touch is Alan Howze — one of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for the County Board seat soon to be vacated by Chris Zimmerman. ARLnow.com quotes Howze as saying there “clearly is a need in the community” for the Aquatics Center, and “we should move forward… if we can do it within the budget we’ve allocated for it”. With so many other competing priorities, the community does not “need” this gold-plated Aquatics Center, and we should not move forward with it even if we could do so within the whopping $80 million price tag we thought it would cost as recently as one month ago.
It’s long past time for the Aquatics Center to downsize or die.
Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.