Update From the Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics

Dear AAA membership:

This was a sad day for AAA, for children who do not yet know how to swim, and for all in Alexandria who value recreation centers, parks and other amenities that make our city a desirable place to live and raise a family. Today on behalf of the board, AAA Board Chair Bill Rivers delivered a letter to the City providing the required 60-day notice to withdraw from the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that formalized our public-private partnership to build the new 50-meter pool at Chinquapin, and to terminate our working relationship with the City on this project.

We have worked closely with the City for over four years to improve the aquatics infrastructure of the community and to bring to fruition a new pool at Chinquapin. By a conservative estimate, the volunteer community has spent over 11,000 hours of its time to help the City. Over $800,000 of volunteer time and City funds has been spent on a project that was arbitrarily and abruptly eliminated by the City this year.

In the letter, the Board cited two primary reasons for cancellation of the MOU: first, the action by the City and the City Council to remove all funding specifically identified for the proposed pool at Chinquapin from the current budget; second, the failure by the City to communicate and cooperate with its partner as required in the MOU.

The MOU was jointly signed by the two parties in August 2016. Yet, just three months later, the City Manager acted without any consultation with AAA to stop any further action on the pool project. The City Manager subsequently removed the pool funding from the following budget and the City Council agreed with him. This lack of cooperation with an established partner is even more surprising given that the City is advocating an expanded use of partnerships to help bridge its funding difficulties.

As part of dissolving the partnership, we have requested that the City return the $5,000 that AAA had previously transferred to the City for the project and that the City discontinue using AAA and its representatives in any of its promotional advertising for the City.

Finally, I’m personally very sad to announce that Bill Rivers has resigned from the AAA board effective May 30, 2017. He has led our Board since its inception with an abundance of energy, problem-solving skills, patience, professionalism, collegiality, good humor, and delicious pumpkin bread at every meeting. We will miss him.

The rest of the board will remain in place for the immediate future, and until there is a clearer picture of whether the blue ribbon panel appointed by the city council will consider the future of the pool in its deliberations. We will continue to keep you apprised of new information as we receive it.

Thank you for your continued support. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Melynda Wilcox, Vice-Chair
Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics

FY 2018 Budget

The City Manager submitted his proposed budget for FY 2018 along with the ten year Capital Improvement Program to the City Council on Tuesday, February 21st.  As usual, we are faced with challenges regarding the new pool at Chinquapin.

The money for the new pool is not part of the CIP. That is the bad news. However, it is part of a listing of capital projects in a supplemental CIP. That supplemental CIP has $15.35 million in it for the new pool for FY 2018. That is the amount needed from the City to go with the $4.5 million that they already approved and have in a reserve account for the project. To get the $15.35 million, we will need the City Council to decide to move it into the base CIP.  This may require a tax increase due to the substantial funding now needed by the school system.

There are many questions yet to be answered regarding the proposed budget. The AAA Board of Directors will meet on Monday, February 27th at 6:30 pm at Chinquapin to discuss the budget and how we should react to it. If any non-Board members are interested, please join us for that meeting.

Let me close with a thank you to our membership. I’m sure that without all of your messages to Council and to the City Manager, we would not even be in the supplemental CIP. The school needs would have forced us out altogether if you had not intervened.

After we discuss the next steps to take, we will be back to the full membership.

Thanks,
Bill Rivers

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.

Thanks,
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.

Sincerely,
Bill Rivers
Chair, Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics

End of Summer Update

With the end of summer and the close of our city’s outdoor pools, AAA’s focus shifts to the one indoor pool in Alexandria – Chinquapin. This is most appropriate as Chinquapin is also the focus of many of our activities as we strive to fully fund a 50-meter indoor pool there.

However, this message is about more than just Chinquapin. We hope that you have been checking this website for breaking news during the year, but we thought that this is a good time to bring you up to date:

  • Chinquapin: The City is negotiating the final stages of the design contract for the new 50-meter pool at Chinquapin. Hopefully the award will be made this month and the contractor will then schedule public hearings on the project. This is a great time to get even more involved with the new pool. If you have any design concerns, please let us know or come to the public hearings to express your views in person. Check out the website for dates and places for the public hearings. If we can raise the $2.5 million in private sector funds to complement the City funding, the new pool will be built in 2018.
  • Warwick: The design contract for the new pool at Warwick has been awarded by the City to Lukmire. They will use the firm Counsilman-Hunsaker as their aquatics expert. The AAA Board met with the contract administrator for the City and she expects the new pool at Warwick to be open during the summer of 2017. Maybe not at Memorial Day, but closer to the end of June. There will be limited public input possibilities because the new pool is basically a replacement for the existing pool – essentially the same footprint, but with a brand new bathhouse.
  • Old Town: The replacement of the Old Town pool is in the long-range capital improvement plan for 2022 – five years away. That will complete a significant overhaul of the aquatic system in Alexandria. More on that after we finish Warwick and Chinquapin.
  • Del Ray Sprayground: Just FYI – there is a local group heading up an effort to install a sprayground with art features at the site of the old Colasanto pool in Del Ray. The City has allocated $450,000 for the project in 2022, but more funds will be needed to actually put in the sprayground. The local group is headed up by Nancy Lee-Reeves. AAA has informed them that our group supports the idea of a sprayground there, but that our focus right now is on the Chinquapin project and raising the necessary funds for that. We wouldn’t be able to help raise funds for the sprayground at this time. If you want to know more about the sprayground, here is Nancy’s email address: nancyleenews@yahoo.com.
  • Family Splash Nights: AAA supports the Family Splash Nights (formerly the Family Fun Nights) that are put on each month by the City and the Chinquapin Advisory Council. They have been an unqualified success for the past couple of years. Each month a local school is featured (although anyone in the City is welcome to attend) and coordination is done through the school’s PTA and ACPS. There can be as many as 200 to 300 people there on a Friday night! Check the schedule.
  • Coming up: During the entire month of October, Reunions, a shop just off of Quaker Lane in Fairlington Centre Plaza, will donate 5% of its proceeds to Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics. In the past, Reunions has supported ALIVE, Senior Services of Alexandria, Kelly Cares Foundation and the Vola Lawson Animal Shelter, and AAA is grateful for their support this year. Reunions, famous for its appealing window displays, will be doing an aquatics-themed display to help promote the new pool at Chinquapin. Please stop by during October to show your support for AAA and invite your friends and neighbors to do the same.
  • Chinquapin Fund-Raising: The clock has started ticking on AAA raising $2.5 million for the indoor 50-meter pool at Chinquapin. If that money is not raised, the pool will be reduced to a 25-meter pool or the project will be deferred. We have many actions going on to raise the funds, but more help is always appreciated. Please contact me at rivers.15wmtida@gmail.com if you think of any prospective private individual donors or possible corporate donors that we can contact. We have come so far – now is the time to push the project to a successful conclusion.

Remember – all of these pool improvements have a common goal – teaching every kid in Alexandria to swim. Let’s fuel the pool and make that happen!

Hope the summer went well and that the fall is even better. See you at Chinquapin!

Bill Rivers
Chair, Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics

To the Mayor and members of City Council

Dear Mayor Silberberg and members of the City Council:

We at the Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics (AAA) are writing you because a couple of very positive items have been given to you recently regarding aquatics in Alexandria. First, the feasibility study for the 50-meter pool at Chinquapin was presented to you last month. This study represents an important and exciting milestone in the process to build an aquatics facility that will accommodate the needs of our city’s residents. Second, the City Manager’s proposed budget for FY 2017 included the funds for the new Chinquapin facility spread over FY 2017 and FY 2018, as well as funding for other aquatics projects.

Regarding the cost estimate at Chinquapin, a year ago we were told that the cost of such a facility would total around $30 million, a significant increase over the amount allocated in the CIP, and the local press pronounced the pool “dead in the water.” Yet AAA believed strongly that a 50-meter pool could be built for substantially less than that, and we worked closely with city staff, requesting that the balance of the feasibility study contract be redefined to evaluate a whole host of lower-cost options.

We commend city staff, especially Laura Durham, for listening to our ideas and suggestions, and for developing a plan that directed the consultants to proceed not only with soil testing and geotechnical testing to more precisely estimate the contingency costs but also to consider some different types of structures.

We commend the Hughes Group for their willingness, after a contentious public meeting last year, to “go back to the drawing board” on their assumptions about what a new 50-meter pool could look like.

This is a model for how government should work. We now have a much clearer idea of how much the new 50-meter pool will cost, and we know that a pool can be built within the budgeted amount. Moreover, public support remains strong for such a pool. In a recently completed survey by the Alexandria Times, 76% of the respondents favored spending money on a new 50-meter pool at Chinquapin.

The City Manager’s proposed FY 2017 budget takes that new cost estimate and makes it a reality. It has initial funding of $4.5 million in FY 2017 for the design contract and $17.85 million in FY 2018 for the actual construction. We understand that the FY 2018 funding includes a $2.5 million private sector contribution and we are actively working to accomplish that.

As you move forward on the budget, AAA reiterates our support for the Chinquapin funding, as well as the funding proposed for the new pool at Warwick and other aquatic initiatives contained in the City Manager’s proposed budget.

Considerable progress has been made. Now it is time to keep up that momentum, and AAA will continue to be an active partner with the city in that process.

Sincerely,
William Rivers
Chair, Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics

2017 Budget Update

On February 23rd, the City Manager submitted his proposed budget to the City Council for FY 2017, along with the 10 year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

If you were wondering if AAA has had an impact, just look at the proposed CIP (www.alexandriava.gov). Remembering that there is a long way to go before the May Council vote on the budget, the proposed CIP has almost $29 million for new pools, covering new pools at Chinquapin, Warwick, and $4.5 million for a new pool and site renovation at Old Town. Beyond that is funding for demolition of the old pools at Colasanto (and adding a sprayground) and at Ewald, plus dollars for new skylights at the existing Chinquapin facility and the standard $52,000 per year for normal repairs (most of which are at Old Town).

It breaks down as:

• Chinquapin – the $22.35 million is in for FY 2017 and FY2018 – as we have been planning.
• Warwick – the $2.1 million is in for FY 2017, also as planned.
• Old Town – shows $500,000 in FY21 and $4,000,000 in FY22 for the renovation of the pool.
• Colasanto demolition and installation of a sprayground – $450,000 in FY22
• Chinquapin skylights – $375,000 in FY26
• Ewald demolition – $450,000 in FY20
• Plus the $52,000 per year (again mostly for Old Town) x 10 years

If you add up all of the above, it is over $35 million with about $29 million of that for new pools.

Considering how tight the budget is (there is a proposed tax increase) and where we were three years ago, this is a tremendous accomplishment!

We’ll have to fight hard for the funding to be kept in, but it is easier doing that if it is in the budget than to try to add it.

Nice work by you all – and nice work by City staff to keep pushing aquatics!