City Manager puts hold on the contract award for Chinquapin

Please see the messages below. The City Manager decided to put a hold on the award of the design contract for the new pool at Chinquapin because of his concern over the coming capital requirements for the school system and existing facility repair throughout the City. AAA strongly opposes that decision as you will see in the messages.

To the AAA Membership:

Well, it wouldn’t be normal not to have a challenge in our Chinquapin project. We just received word of the latest one – a decision by the City Manager to hold off awarding the design contract for Chinquapin due to a re-evaluation of capital projects. This re-evaluation is because of the large capital needs of the school system and of the need for repairs to existing facilities throughout the City. The re-evaluation will extend beyond the design contract to the entire Chinquapin pool project.

We are strongly opposed to this decision. While we fully support additional investments in our community schools, the new facility at Chinquapin is critical to ensuring that the more than 7,500 kids in Alexandria who don’t know how to swim can acquire this life skill. We have been working closely with the ACPS staff to create an aquatics section within the P. E. curriculum in every school in the City so that every child in the Alexandria school system has access to swim lessons and water safety instruction. Without the 50-meter pool at Chinquapin, it will be impossible to implement that curriculum because the existing facility simply does not have enough space. Delaying the construction of the 50-meter pool prevents the children of Alexandria from learning a skill that will benefit them throughout their life – and potentially save their life.

Earlier today we sent a letter to the City Council expressing our displeasure and asking for their support (see the AAA website later for a copy of that letter). We will also be taking a number of other actions to counter this move, including: meeting with the Council members; briefing local reporters; meetings with other interested organizations for support; etc. But the most important thing that we can do is to ask you all to help ensure the new Chinquapin pool is completed in 2018!

We must convince the City Council and the City Manager of the widespread support for the pool in our community. The best way to do that is to ask you to contact the Council and the City Manager and tell them that you support the new pool at Chinquapin. That you support the need for all kids to learn how to swim; the need for all residents to have access to a pool for their activities; the need for our local schools to have a place to practice and hold home meets; the need for more pool capacity when a City study shows that only 20% of aquatics needs are being met now. We will have various organizations reach out to them as well, but nothing says it better than private citizens sending their own message.

You can contact the Mayor and City Council here and the City Manager here. This is a critical time for the Chinquapin pool. We are so close to realizing that dream – help us all get there by sending your message!

The timing is such that this comes when we are in the middle of our #GivingTuesday fund-raising campaign (November 29). We have decided to continue the fundraising effort since we will need to continue to fight for the Chinquapin pool. So please give if you are able. To those many who have already given – thank you!

And please attend the #GivingTuesday party at Fairlington Pizza on the evening of November 29. Several members of the Board will be there to thank you in person.

While this delay is unfortunate, we are still optimistic that this pool will be built. Too many people in the community need it. Please check the website periodically for updates.

Bill Rivers
Chair, Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics

Dear Mayor and Members of the City Council:

On Wednesday, you received an email from City Manager Mark Jinks regarding his decision to delay the contracting action on the new pool at Chinquapin and possibly to recommend abandoning the project completely. As indicated, Mark had the courtesy to call me and alert me to his actions. As you know, AAA does not support this action and will strongly advocate for the project to continue on schedule.

Over the past four years, considerable effort has been spent by a vast number of people to create the environment for adding the second pool at Chinquapin. You all have been a crucial part of that with your unanimous votes in favor of it, and we are now asking for your continued support. As many of you have stated in the past, this pool is essential for every child in Alexandria to learn to swim. Over half of our school kids don’t know how to swim, with a large number of them being minority students. These are the same students for whom the City is attempting to build additional school facilities. In fact, AAA has been working with ACPS to include swimming as part of the school curriculum starting when the new pool opens – with the full support of Dr. Crawley and his staff. We favor an approach in which the two efforts would complement each other rather than sacrificing one for the other.

In his message to you, the City Manager expresses concern about adding new facilities when existing ones need attention. If that were the driving force for the City’s budget process, then nothing new, including schools, would be built at a time when the city’s growing population of families with children are demanding more recreational facilities as well as more school capacity.

In a public poll, 76% of the respondents supported the new pool at Chinquapin. And the City’s own study showed that only 20% of our residents’ aquatics needs are being met by our existing facilities. The public needs and wants this new pool.

We are also concerned about the unintended consequences of this action:

  • We have worked for four years with the City as part of a public/private partnership to get this project done. Now as the actual work on the new pool is about to begin, the future of the partnership is being thrown into doubt. What does that say about the viability of public/private partnerships? Why would any group enter into a large-scale relationship that City could arbitrarily end at any point?  We have a Memorandum of Understanding with the City Manager about this project; we have worked collaboratively with the City to make this happen (at times when the City Administration wasn’t even supporting it); we have committed considerable time and effort to make this happen for our citizens. This undermines the idea of public/private partnerships and the very concept of the Parknership program being initiated by the City. If this stands, we would recommend to any other group that they not enter into such relationships with the City.
  • By delaying the signing of the design contract, the City Manager has effectively delayed the construction of the new pool. That means that more of our children will be without valuable life saving lessons for that much longer. Hardly a situation that our residents would endorse.
  • It significantly impedes AAA’s fundraising efforts. It has taken four years and hard work to overcome skepticism in the community about the City’s support for a new pool. This decision reaffirms the doubters’ misgivings. Why trust the City to follow through on actions even when the City Council has unanimously approved them when something like this is done?
  • It’s very difficult to approach potential donors and ask for money when we can’t be certain what the City will do. Because of your vote in May to approve the contracting action, we have made promising progress with several prospective donors – and now we have to tell them that we are not sure if the City still supports the project, which will undoubtedly cause them to re-assess their decisions.
  • We had so much faith in our working relationship with the City that we awarded a contract to a sports marketing firm to develop a return on investment study for naming rights to features at the new pool to encourage large donors. This contract was designed, in part, to help AAA identify potential private sector sponsorship packages that will provide a long-term stream of revenue to the City to support ongoing operations well past our initial capital contribution – something that would reduce the need for budget dollars to support operating costs and save the City money in the long run. Something that may be of benefit to the City in other circumstances as well. However, the uncertainty around the decision on the new pool has the very real potential to limit AAA’s ability to enter into substantive conversations with potential donors identified as part of the impact study.
  • As a further example of AAA’s willingness to find innovative solutions to financing an improvement to the community’s aquatic infrastructure, we have received a proposal from a bank to undertake an unique funding approach where AAA would borrow the money at a reduced rate for a new pool; run it for ten years under a lease with the City; and then turn it over to the City. We didn’t pursue it because we don’t have the technical expertise on our Board to do that. However, maybe thinking like that needs to be applied to other areas requiring capital funding in the City.

It goes without saying that AAA is passionate about this project. As indicated, we will ask our constituency to contact both you and the City Manager to express their views. We would appreciate individual meetings with you and will be contacting you as soon as possible. We need your guidance during this critical time. We will also send you a separate list of the actions that we have taken and are taking to give you a more comprehensive picture of the impact this decision by the City Manager will have.

We thank you again for your continued support. Working with all of you makes us believe that everything will work out as currently planned.

Bill Rivers
Chair, Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics

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