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ArlingtonStaffing issues still a challenge at new aquatics center

Staffing issues still a challenge at new aquatics center

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It’s been open for almost three-quarters of a year, but Arlington’s Long Bridge Park aquatics center is not immune for finding personnel that are plaguing the rest of the county government.

“The staffing issues are particularly challenging,” county parks and recreation director Jane Rudolph said at a recent confab with County Board members.

The aquatics facility, which opened last summer after a lengthy and difficult birthing process, is still in need of a general manager and aquatics-program manager, and the 16 lifeguards on staff would require an infusion of eight to 10 more to bring it to a full complement.

Staffing continues to limit what can be accomplished at the facility, located amid Long Bridge Park on the north end of Crystal City.

“This is a fantastic center that can do so much more,” County Board member Takis Karantonis said. “Staffing is so critical – I see that as a major impediment to progress.”

Owing to the support of the Boeing Co., which purchased a variety of naming rights at Long Bridge Park (its local office is adjacent to the park), for the time being at least the aquatics center will operate without a deficit.

The budget for the current fiscal year assumes $3.7 million in expenses and $1.4 million in revenues, with Boeing’s contribution of $2.4 million covering the gap.

(The $3.7 million in expenses does not include the cost of paying off bonds that funded the construction of the facility, only operating costs.)

The aquatics center’s tortured history, now hopefully receding in the memories of those who lived through it, dates back to 2004, when county voters approved a bond referendum to pay for the entire Long Bridge Park, including pool facilities.

But, after a case of “mission creep” that saw the project balloon in scope and cost, county leaders in 2012 had to seek additional funding through another park bond, at a time when public discontent over what critics derided as gold-plated “vanity” projects in Arlington was beginning to gather steam.

Voters in 2012 gave the proposal the green light, but the 63-percent margin of support – while significant – was almost 20 percentage points lower than several other bond packages on the ballot. It proved an ominous portent for those few in the Arlington political establishment who were paying attention.

(That 2012 result was a foreshadowing of the voter revolution two years later that propelled independent John Vihstadt to the County Board and, indirectly, led to the scuttling of two other major projects: the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar and the existing Artisphere art center.)

In pre-COVID times, county officials guesstimated that the aquatics center, in its first year of operation, would achieve $3.19 in revenues. That total may some day be reached as the pandemic, hopefully, dissipates.

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