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City Council dives into funding swimming pool at Alexandria City High School

Athlete on the T.C. Williams Swim and Dive Team (photo via T.C. Williams High School/Facebook)

Despite the unanimous vote of approval to install a new pool at the Alexandria City High School’s Minnie Howard campus, even the most positive of voices on City Council last night were lukewarm about how they got there.

The Council voted 7-0 in favor of setting aside $12 million in funding, down from $19 million proposed earlier, with Alexandria City Public Schools diverting some funding from a solar panel project.

Like a parent scolding his child for reckless spending, City Manager Mark Jinks warned that the pool proposal is coming in after the budget has already been approved.

“This is a project that is not in the CIP (Capital Improvement Program),” Jinks told Council. “When the School Board made its request, we all acknowledged that pool capacity needs to be expanded… my proposal is to renovate Chinquapin, change the depth of the pool, and shorten it slightly for the right competitive length.”

Jinks said this would allow the city government and ACPS to determine, at a later date, whether to put a pool in somewhere else with greater access — considering the proposed school would be just a few blocks away from the existing Chinquapin Park Recreation Center and Aquatics Facility (3210 King Street), the only other indoor aquatics center in the city.

Jinks also warned that diverting up-front funding from the solar panel projects and opting instead towards privatized sources of funding is a short term budget trick that doesn’t save money in the long term, because the business investing in those solar panels up-front will want that money back from output in the future.

“This is using money that was supposed to be used to buy solar panels and put that into the pot,” Jinks said. “It won’t save us money long-term. It’s a budget tactic that works in the short-term but doesn’t help long-term.”

ACPS would also, Jinks said, face an additional annual operating cost of $1-1.5 million and likely up to $5,000 in capital maintenance expenses. While some pools make some of that cost back in fees and being rented out for private events, Jinks says that complicates the idea that this pool is being funded with equity in mind.

Ultimately, the timing of Chinquapin’s announced closure for cleaning– from June 26-Sept. 6 — helped sway some on the City Council toward funding another pool. City Council member john Chapman said angry public emails have flooded in after the closure was announced.

“I do understand and do believe the city has a number of other priorities,” Chapman said. “If we are forced to push, we will push a pool out of the way like we have before. Whether revenues are down or another project that will require our more immediate attention… I’ve seen that be done. That’s what’s leaning me to support a pool. It’s not that this is the perfect thing. I’m not overly excited for the late addition… but I don’t see another tangible alternative to say ‘we’re not going to do one at Minnie Howard, but instead of that we’re going to do this.'”

Jinks said funding for the pool would come in large part from issuing general obligation bunds for a set amount of money, with the City putting its foot down and saying that’s as much as it will provide.

The move was met with praise from ACPS leadership.

“I am truly overjoyed and thankful with the unanimous vote from City Council to provide funding for the aquatics facility at the Minnie Howard Campus,” School Board member Jacinta Greene told ALXnow. “For far too long Alexandria’s aquatics facilities have not met the needs of our ACPS student athletes or the overall community. Now our swim teams will be able to practice and compete in their own regulation size pool and the community can benefit from an additional pool for aquatics activities.”

Photo via T.C. Williams High School/Facebook

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