Experts recommend $48m in Alexandria pool improvements

Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland

One of Alexandria's most popular swimming pools may have been intentionally built centimeters short of regulation size in the 1980s to keep high schools and competitive swim teams from using the facility.

But with relations between the city and its schools improving, a pair of consultants has recommended finally lengthening the lanes at the Chinquapin Park Recreation Center to regulation length as part of $48 million in improvements to seven Alexandria facilities.

It's unclear how much it would cost to add just a few centimeters to the pool at the Chinquapin complex. The consultants recommended $28 million in work at the complex, including a new recreation building.

Recommendations for Alexandria pools
Chinquapin: $28.3 million for recreation center with indoor pool and fitness center
Old Town: $5.5 million for family aquatic center and bathhouse
West Side: $5.2 million for family aquatic center and bathhouse
Warwick: $2.4 million for interactive sprayground
Lee: $3.3 million for indoor therapy pool
Ewald: $1.9 million for interactive sprayground
Colasanto: $831,769 for decorative interactive water feature

Ralph Baird, Chinquapin's aquatics director, said the pool may have been built just centimeters shy of the 25-meter requirement because of fears that the pool, built for the community, would be "monopolized by schools" if its lanes were regulation length.

As a result, teams that practice at the pool, including T.C. Williams High School, and league teams in the area, such as the Chinquapin Wahoos, cannot hold official meets there.

And while the annual city meet among high schools is held at Chinquapin, scores are only kept for "bragging rights," Baird said, and results are listed on the schools' websites as "not applicable."

Laura Fries, a representative for the Wahoos, said she too heard the pool was intentionally constructed short. And although she's concerned about the city's "mean-spirited" decision to do so, she said she's more upset that modernizing the city's pools "has not been a top priority, or even on the radar, of the City Council for years."

The recommendations were submitted by Texas-based Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. and Missouri-based Counsilman Hunsaker.

Laura Durham, the city's open space coordinator, acknowledged that the Chinquapin pool was not regulation size, but said she doubted it was built that way because of a disagreement. She said she hopes the changes to the pools "will meet the needs of all users."

It's unlikely that the city will proceed with the full $48 million in renovations, city officials said.

"We'll never be able to go forward with a $48 million ticket," Durham said.

The city will schedule meetings to discuss publicly which of the consultants' recommendations should be prioritized.

"We pride ourselves on being a historic city," Fries said, "but the word 'historic' shouldn't apply to our pools."

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