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Arlington Officials Struggle With Cost Of Proposed Aquatics Center

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A rendering of the proposed sport and fitness pool at the Long Bridge Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility.
Arlington County Department Of Parks And Recreation
A rendering of the proposed sport and fitness pool at the Long Bridge Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility.

In Virginia, leaders in Arlington are trying to figure out how to move forward with a planned aquatics center that's costing more than expected.

Long Bridge Park is a former industrial wasteland at the northern end of Crystal City, a spot that Arlington County leaders want to transform into a park and aquatics center. But how much will it cost to build and operate? Those numbers have been a matter of debate in recent weeks, with the estimated operating costs jumping for $2 to $4 million dollars a year.

Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette says he delivered a presentation back in 2012 that detailed a range of operating costs.

"I discussed in black-and-white, on the screen, the range of operating costs could be from $700,000 to $2.5 million. The difference between that and what has garnered so much attention is fifteen percent," he says.

Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz says estimates will continue to change as details emerge about staffing and maintenance for $80 million aquatics center.

"It's an estimate. We're at least two years, now probably longer, away from the pool opening its doors until we find out what it really costs," he says.

Earlier this month, County Manager Barbara Donnellan said construction bids for the aquatics center came in "significantly higher" than what they expected, although county officials won't say how much. Arlington residents are awaiting the world-class center that's expected to be an international draw.

"You're really competing against pools in North Carolina, Florida, Indianapolis and California in this county and Mexico City and places like that across the world," says Frank Shafroth, director of the George Mason Center for State and Local Government Leadership.

For now, the project has been delayed indefinitely. County leaders are trying to figure out why the construction bids were so high, and what they should do now.

Meanwhile, county voters have already approved a bond initiative to fund the aquatics center, which means that Arlington officials are eager to find some way to press ahead.

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