Pool problems

Charlottesville's Head of Parks and Rec Mike Svetz gave a lesson on the three "r"s tonight, but he wasn't talking readin', 'riting and 'rithmatic. Svetz's r's stand for repair, renovation, and replacement, and his pupils were city and county swimmers upset at the notion that the 32-year-old Smith and Crow pools may soon be history.

For nearly 30 minutes in City Council Chambers, Svetz outlined his department's potential plan to build a 25-30,000 square-foot aquatic and fitness center at the current site of Smith pool at Buford Middle School on Cherry Avenue. The facility would be built adjacent to the parcel where the Boys and Girls Club, which has a land lease from the city, is also planning to build a new recreation center.

In addition to four dedicated lap lanes, the City's new aquatic center pool would feature zero entry– a la Washington Park– water play structures, and room for water aerobics and physical therapy. There would be space for nonaquatic fitness equipment and classes as well.

To make way for the new facility at Buford, Svetz admitted, the old Smith pool and the building around it would need to go. Among issues he cited: an antiquated HVAC system not equipped to handle humidity or corrosive chemicals like chlorine in the air; inadequate and aging locker rooms; and a lack of handicap accessibility. The cost of a true renovation of both Smith and Crow would run as high as $6 million, he said, with locker room repairs alone reaching nearly 300,000 at each location. The inefficient insulation and heating and cooling systems has caused skyrocketing expense of utilities at both sites – about $320,000 per year combined. That's double, Svetz said, what the cost would be to operate a single modern facility. Svetz estimated the total cost of constructing and furnishing the new aquatics and fitness center at $7-11 million.

Many of the swimmers in attendance were outraged by the plan.

"It doesn't need to be so fancy," said one, while another– pointing out that many of the people using Smith and Crow don't live in town– complained, "I don't want $7 million of city tax money to build a facility for those rich people in the county."

To swimmers' claims that in 2003 the city announced necessary repairs could be done for less than $220,000 at both Crow and Smith, Svetz agreed, then explained the difference between repair and renovation. The former is a temporary fix, he said, and only the latter assures that a facility will be functional for many years, hence the nearly 30-fold increase in cost.

Further complicating the city pool issue is the fact that the Piedmont YMCA is hoping to build a $12-15 million facility on one of two sites: McIntire Park or PVCC. The city is offering a 40-year, $1 per year lease on land in McIntire Park for a nonprofit to build a community recreation and swimming center, and thus far, the YMCA is the only organization to apply. If the Y is given the lease, one requirement is that it provide a place for competitive city swim teams including one from Charlottesville High School to practice.

That assurance from Svetz didn't ease concerns of swimmer Lisa Grove, who worries that the city will shut down Crow completely since the YMCA will be close by.

"We don't want to farm [recreation needs] out to private clubs," she said. Svetz said no decision has been made regarding Crow pool's future.

Grove also expressed concern that children at Walker Elementary wouldn't have the chance to take swimming lessons as part of P.E.

"It's important to keep pools attached to schools," she said.

Another swimmer called it "environmentally and fiscally irresponsible" to tear down a building, as the City is considering doing at Smith Pool, simply because it is run down. "We repair our homes, we don't tear them down," she said. "If our families grow, we build an addition." The same attitude should be applied to public buildings, she suggested.

Several others asked why a new multi-million dollar facility would actually reduce the number of lanes for lap swimmers, from the current 12 total at Smith and Crow to a proposed four at the new facility. Svetz replied that the four lanes will be dedicated lap lanes, and that some of the current lap swimmers and competitive swimmers will likely be using the Y.

While criticism of the pool plan dominated the question and answer period, two in attendance spoke up in favor of the city's plan for the new center and the construction of the YMCA, explaining that preventing the Y from footing the bill for a new community fitness facility would be a mistake.

"Change is always hard," she said, as a woman two rows up shook her head and buried her face in her hands.

The pool issue is on the agenda for the October 15 City Council meeting.

1 comment

I understand why folks are upset, but these buildings, and pools, are in atrocious shape. My son could not take lessons there because the water is so cold he froze up and the teacher asked me to take him out of the water. The air is so thick I had to walk out several times just to breathe. With all due respect to the sentiments behind these things, many of us went to a school without a pool, and with the use of a public pool for swim meets. Keeping these buildings up is a hazard and environmentally unsound for the long term. People in Charlottesville, as a whole, seem loathe to change ANYTHING. It's a wonder any change happens. Let it go, and give something better to our kids and grandkids, please.