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Saving Tall Oaks Pool from ‘Disneyland on the Potomac’

Angered about the possibility that Tall Oaks pool may one day be considered for closing, fans of the pool protested last week to save it.

About 50 supporters of Tall Oaks pool — many of them children — lined North Shore Drive, calling for guarantees from the Reston Association to preserve the pool.

Leading chants like “Let’s not be fooled, Tall Oaks pool rules,” and “When we’re out of school, we go to Tall Oaks pool,” protest organizer Debbie Shprentz wanted to organize against any future attempt by Reston Association to close the pool. She led the effort to form Save Tall Oaks Pool, or STOP, and then organized the protest to introduce the formation of the group, which announced its Web site, www.SaveTallOaksPool.com, and that it will begin a three-week petition drive.

Over the summer, PROS Consulting, an independent research consulting firm hired by the Reston Association, released a report that recommended that RA consider closing underutilized pools to save money on operating costs, which run about $57,000 a year per pool.

Of the five pools with low participation levels, the report specifically recommended Tall Oaks and Shadowood pools for closing. “Both are poorly performing, older pools (put in service in 1977 and 1975, respectively), are geographically close to other pools, and may better serve the community converted to other desirable uses,” the report states. The report also said that if both pools were closed, RA could save roughly $1 million in capital investment over 10 years.

Since the report was released, RA President Jennifer Blackwell and other board members have been deluged with e-mails and letters concerned about the recommendations from the report.

“I’ve just emphasized in the past, in my letter to the editor and personally, that no decisions have been made [on recommendations from the PROS report],” said Blackwell. “This is a very preliminary stage in the process, and the board hasn’t even considered what it will do with the PROS report or how it will implement the plan.” She added that in June, after hearing the results of the report, the board immediately established a Parks and Recreation Planning Special Committee to review the report’s suggestions and recommendations. The committee, which will eventually report to the board, will hold meetings open to the public.

BUT MEMBERS of STOP want a decision now. “Reston Association says no decisions have been made, but we say make a decision now to save Tall Oaks pool,” said Shprentz. “Reston is not Disneyland on the Potomac,” said Shprentz, suggesting that Reston’s amenities should be evenly distributed throughout the community and not be held hostage by participation levels.

Many parents attended the protest, saying that their children loved the pool and often walked to it.

“I don’t want to see children crossing Wiehle Avenue,” said Tara Coonin, president of Bentana Woods Cluster.

Carla Watkins, who has lived in Reston for 34 years, said that when she got married she decided to stay in Reston to provide her kids with the same upbringing that she had, emphasizing the close proximity to a pool. “I wanted the same environment," she said. "It’s magical.”

Howard Singer, president of the Bentana Park Condominium Association, said the pool was integral to the community. “Our community feels, because we’re so close to this pool, that it is part of our home. It’s right in our backyard,” he said. “Having it closed would be a huge blow to our community.”

After a few parents spoke, about 15 children lined up and announced reasons why they liked Tall Oaks pool. Most said they liked it because it was in walking distance. Others said they liked it because it wasn’t so crowded. Sam Moyers, 14, said the community pools are what Reston is all about.

Robin Smyers, RA director representing the Tall Oaks/Lake Anne district attended the event in support of the protesters.

“As your director, I will do everything in my power to make sure Tall Oaks pool is never closed,” Smyers said, who was given a chance to address the crowd.

Shprentz said that this is the first step in a multi-faceted effort to save Tall Oaks pool. “We’re all members of Reston Association and we pay hundreds of dollars in dues and we expect them to use those dues to maintain our pool,” said Shprentz. “We’re in this for the long-term.”

Shprentz is no stranger to organizing for a cause. Nine years ago, she created TOMATO, which stood for Totally Organic Market at Tall Oaks. The effort is credited with starting the farmers’ market at Lake Anne.

“We figure with a good acronym, there’s nothing you can’t do on the grassroots level,” said Shprentz.