Curiosity was in the water as community members got their first glimpse of the proposed layouts for an expanded Chinquapin Recreation Center. Approximately 40 people attended the first public meeting regarding the Chinquapin Swim Center feasibility study, which took place on June 12 in the Minnie Howard School Cafeteria. Attendees were greeted by six schematics depicting various ways that a 50-meter pool could be added to the site, then invited to sit in groups around idea boards to share their opinions on the type of programing they would like to see incorporated.
The meeting was the first step of the civic engagement portion of the study (also referred to as Task 1B). Hughes Group Architects also gave an overviews of their findings and explanations of the pros and cons of each of the schemes. Hughes Group Architects was awarded a contract in March to lead the feasibility study.
“The bottom line is we feel that there is room to accommodate a project,” said Amado Fernandez, principal of Hughes Group Architects.
That determination was made after analyzing the constraints and challenges of the site, the surrounding market area, Chinquapin’s usage, as well as three years of historical financial data.
“It is important to remember that these schemes are intended to show different options available – pluses and minuses. You shouldn’t look at this as pick the best one and go,” said Fernandez as he emphasized the importance of citizen input and how that will influence the final recommendation, which is anticipated to be made to the City Council in November 2014.
Thus, the bulk of the evening was reserved for focus group activities to gather feedback from citizens about the potential uses of the new 50-meter pool and enhancements for the existing indoor pool. Initial reactions were diverse.
Mary Parker, a member of the city’s Commission on Aging, attended the meeting to speak up for the elderly and those with disabilities. Whereas, Jamie Holder, Georgetown University’s head swimming and diving coach, would like to see a facility capable of hosting a Big East Conference meet. Then there were those such as Andy Findlay, who use Chinquapin’s park space for walking and would like a design that would be the least intrusive on the open areas, playground and courts. Parents with small children wanted to see the playground preserved and ensure that there would be family-friendly amenities. And regular lap swimmers such as Jim Pawlik, who uses Chinquapin four to five times per week, were relieved to hear that the current pool would remain open during construction of the 50-meter pool.
However, they all were concerned about the impact on parking. While some of the options would have little effect on the current available spots, those options would have other drawbacks in terms of imposing on the Resource Protection Area around Taylor Run or the storm water management area.
Advocates for Alexandria Aquatic’s Chairman Bill Rivers also drew attention to the issues that the City of Arlington is experiencing with the proposed Long Bridge Aquatic Center.
“Increase our comfort level that this will work better than Arlington,” said Rivers.
Fernandez replied that while the Long Bridge project is also led by his company, “it has a very different set of constraints and challenges.”
Laura Durham, open space coordinator for the City of Alexandria, added that the city is sensitive to Arlington’s issue and that’s why there is a heavy emphasis on the feasibility study.
The evening concluded with an overview of the next steps in the process. A second public meeting is slated for August, with a date still yet to be determined. A survey also will be sent to randomly selected citizens. Hughes Group Architects has chosen Concordia, LLC to lead the community engagement stage which involves collecting and analyzing all the feedback from the meetings and survey.
“I was very happy to participate,” said Pawlik. “This event was really well done.”
Summing up the meeting, Rivers added, “This is a good start to a long-overdue solution to the City’s pool problems. The current pools are in poor condition or overwhelmed by so many users. Adding a new 50-meter pool will give our residents more than 20 new swimming lanes to use, along with a state of the art recreational pool for family fun.” The Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics have encouraged city planners, in designing the new pools, to not only meet existing needs, but to build for the future so all Alexandrians—young and old—will have an opportunity to learn how to swim and to enjoy the sport that so many love.