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Votes

Weighing Recreation Costs

At its first meeting, new parks and recreation committee hears pleas from community.

Before having a chance to establish protocol for meetings, the members of the Special Committee on Parks and Recreation Planning sat through emotional pleas from residents to move quickly.

“I know it’s just a study, but I would like this committee to step up and take Tall Oaks Pool off the list [of pools being considered for closure],” said Tara Coonin, a life-time resident of Reston.

Last Monday night, Sept. 19, at its first meeting, the committee saw how contentious its subject matter — recreation — would be.

In June, RA established the special committee after PROS Consulting LLC, an independent research consulting firm hired by RA, released a report on the status of recreation needs in Reston.

The report was immediately controversial because it recommended, among other things, that two underutilized pools be closed to save operating costs, which run about $57,000 a year.

The report specifically recommended closing Tall Oaks and Shadowood pools. “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 said.

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

The PROS report also said that if both pools were closed, RA could save roughly $1 million in capital investment over 10 years.

THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE was tasked by the RA board to review the report’s recommendations and then report back with its own recommendations.

“This is a daunting task in front of us,” said Bill Keefe, a Reston Association board member who was elected co-chair of the committee. “There’s a changing set of recreational needs in Reston, and this report has a whole series of demanding issues.”

Two of those issues debuted at the meeting. Several representatives of Save Tall Oaks Pool told the committee not to consider the pool for closure. “The whole point of Reston is that it’s not typical,” said Sally Carroll, who found the report’s use of the term ‘underutilized’ misleading. “Part of diversity is not having a one-size-fits-all pool.”

Carroll, a member of STOP, noted that the report’s survey, on which some of the recommendations were based, didn’t ask if people enjoyed crowded pools. “I think we need to look at a whole lot more than numbers, particularly values,” said Carroll.

Coonin, also a member of STOP, echoed many of Carroll’s views. “We don’t want our pool closed. We like that it’s small. We like that it’s got trees. We like that it’s not crowded,” she said.

Mike Healy, representing STOP, requested at the outset of the meeting that the group be allowed to make a presentation that refutes many of the assumptions in the PROS report.

The special committee also heard from several people who voiced their support for an indoor tennis facility in Reston.

“I looked for a place to play in the winter and I had to go to Herndon to play,” said Jane Acton. “I represent a large group of people in Reston who would like to have indoor tennis available.” She also said that a lot of money is going to other communities when Reston residents go elsewhere to play indoor tennis in the winter.

AT THIS MEETING, the special committee did not address the specific concerns made by residents. Instead, they made several decisions about how to run the meetings. They decided to follow informal Robert’s Rules, which governs how the meeting will run and how decisions will be made.

On the recommendation of Larry Butler, director of parks and recreation for RA, the committee agreed to allow members to speak for three minutes before meetings and representatives of groups for five minutes.

Most of the meeting, although, was spent deciding how to respond to requests from groups to make presentations before the committee, like STOP’s.

“If we allow STOP to have a presentation then every organization will have to have 20 minutes,” said Jay Monroe, committee member.

Other committee members agreed and didn’t want the meetings to be overrun by member comments or group presentations.

“I’m not convinced there are that many groups that are pounding on the door to make presentations,” said Butler.

The committee agreed to a compromise suggested by committee member David DeLong. He suggested that the committee be able to review written presentations submitted electronically before meetings and then a member of the group could further explain the presentation during the allotted five minutes given for group representatives. If committee members want, they could then ask the representative questions. Presentations of this type are to be submitted through committee co-chair Keefe or co-chair Jim Kirby.

The committee will continue to meet every third Monday of the month at 7 p.m. at RA headquarters at Isaac Newton Square.