The Washington Examiner reports that one of the major issues for citizens to vote on during the upcoming election season is a huge bond package that would include a $50 million loan to build a massive aquatics center along the shores of the Potomac River.
Arlington County, which borders along the District of Columbia, is one of the wealthiest areas in the country. The result has been the willingness to take on loans for major projects like this, having not voted down a bond backage in over three decades, which is something that politicians are counting on again this year.
The entire aquatics facility is projected to run about $80 million, as part of a larger, $127 million complex. That would include $20 million from developers, and a chunk of cash that came from a previous bond package.
The city’s governance seems to be largely in favor of the project, with those like Board Vice Chairman Walter Tejada saying “It’s important that we stick to our vision to maximize community benefits and promote a culture of fitness among residents.”
The county’s 200,000+ residents have seen a boom in their local economy, even during the economic downturn. Between 2000 and 2008, the average home price more than doubled to $586,200, and even during the recession there was only a .9 percent forclosure rate that according to the Washington Post was the lowest in the DC area.
The resiliance of the area has a lot to do with the number of Federal Agencies in the area, including the DEA, the US Marshals Service, the Department of Defense, and the research arms of both the Navy and the Airforce. Some local leaders still don’t feel comfortable given the current climate, though. Both the local Republic Committee and Green Party Committee spoke out against the “inflated cost” of the facility.
The team most likely to benefit from this construction is the Arlington Aquatic Club, which sent a squad of 7 to the Junior National Championships this summer. The club currently operates out of 4 pools.
The cost would seem to relate largely to the high cost of acquiring such a huge piece of land in the densely-populated area.
Still, even with the higher cost of just about everything in the area, the $80 million price tag seems a bit high. Consider other high-profile, high-use facilities built recently, including the Blacksburg Aquatic Center in the same state at a cost of only $18 million, a huge facility in Conroe, Texas for only $14 million, and the Wilson Aquatic Center, built in the similarly-pricy District of Columbia, for $35 million.
Though initial renderings indicate that this pool would have a much larger seating capacity than the roughly 500 at the comparable Wilson pool, it’s not clear that this should justify the costs more than doubling.
Swimming as a sport needs to take a look at the economics; as more pools are built that can handle the kind of capacities needed for regional and national meets, one would expect that the need for such monstrous, expensive facilities would diminish with time. They seem, instead, to be accelerating. Perhaps we have not yet hit the critical point for demand of these pools, but it would seem as though at some point, we will have to begin accepting more scaled-back facilities, but still high-quality, designed specifically for local meets and training. Otherwise, we risk developing animosity with and backlash from our communities as a whole.
Then again, in a community like Arlington, if they can afford it, having more great facilities is never a bad thing.
The other bond issues on the ballot include $42 million for school construction, $28 million for sidewalk and public building maintenance, and $31.9 million for Metor improvements.