For the some 60 people gathered Saturday morning at the groundbreaking for the Sully District recreation center in Chantilly, it was reason to celebrate. For Hal Strickland, Gary Reese and Michael Frey, it was the culmination of a dream — one that they had first.
"It's been a long and wonderful trip to get to where we are today," said Strickland, Sully's representative on the Fairfax County Park Authority. And since this is the only magisterial district without its own rec center, it will certainly be a welcome addition.
The $18.5 million, 94,000-square-foot facility is being built on 37.3 acres just north of Westfield High, bounded by Stonecroft Boulevard and Cub Run. It's anticipated to open in July 2004 and will house a 25-meter competitive pool, separate leisure pool with slide, whirlpool/spa, weight training and cardiovascular fitness areas, multipurpose rooms and offices.
The 10,000-square-foot fitness area will be twice the size of those in other county rec centers. There'll also be 5,000 feet of trail, with a stream crossing, plus concrete walkways. And future plans include a second 25-meter pool. The building will have glass sides, up to the roof, so patrons may view the forested hillside. Native stone on the exterior walls will blend in with the rocks outside.
Saturday, Strickland explained how this marvel came about. "Through the leadership of [Board of Supervisors Chairman] Kate Hanley and [Sully District Supervisor] Michael Frey, we got a bond referendum in 1998 — after 10 years of waiting," he said. "And the citizens stepped forward and passed the referendum by 70 percent."
Now 67th District delegate, Reese was Sully's School Board representative then, and he and Strickland made a deal. Said Strickland: "Gary said, 'If you put the rec center on our School Board land, we'll let you put it [there] free.' However, he also wanted us to work with a private partner to build a field house here — and we're this close to having an agreement with the private sector."
This 160,000-square-foot facility — including a 200-meter track, room for graduations and space for a multitude of other sports — will go right next door. An Oregon company is currently in negotiations.
Strickland also acknowledged the efforts of the West Fairfax County Citizens Association Land-Use Committee, plus Sully District Planning Commissioner Ron Koch "for doing a yeoman's job" of helping push things through." And he called Frey a "joy to work with and a great friend of parks."
He also thanked fellow Park Authority board members, Chairman Winnie Shapiro, former Director Paul Baldino, Director of Planning and Development Lynn Tadlock, senior engineer Chris Hoppe and School Facilities Services representative Dave Watkins.
Strickland noted the Supervisors' and Hanley's "foresight in the preservation of land in the Occoquan Watershed [the 1,800-acre Hunter-Hacor tract] that allowed us to create a naturalist position here." And Hanley said it'll give local students "an opportunity to use this for education in the Cub Run Stream Valley."
When the School Board bought 159 acres in Westfields for $2.3 million in 1994, said Reese, "We walked this site and were impressed by its beauty and [size]. We master-planned [it] and, in 1995, a footprint for a recreation facility/cultural center was made."
Eventually realizing that putting in all the amenities everyone wanted was beyond the scope of the county budget, the Park Authority began negotiating a public/private partnership. "Today we break ground on the public site, and I'm looking forward to the future when we break ground on the private site," said Reese. "This will be unlike any structure in the U.S. It'll be 210,000 square feet-plus of cultural, recreational, ecological facilities."
Frey said a feasibility study showed "there were plenty of people here and plenty of demand [for a recreation center]. The Park Authority, Board of Supervisors and School Board really stepped up to the plate. Hal's done a fabulous job, and the Supervisors have supported it."
Calling it a "landmark facility," Hanley said she looks forward to "being invited back to the ribbon-cutting," and Frey said that would be in about 15 months. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-11th) was also on hand, Saturday.
"I didn't have a thing to do with this," he said. "But I've got a daughter who runs indoor track and there's no place in Fairfax County to do it now. This is a magnificent achievement, and I thank all those who were involved with it."