Exactly how did the closures of Tall Oaks and Shadowood pools rise to the top of the Reston Association agenda, wondered several people in the audience — especially, since the same debate took place about 10 years ago, said Joel Shprentz.
The audience soon learned that the recommendations came last summer from a group of consultants from Dallas, Tex. who had little familiarity with Reston’s history.
The company, PROS Consulting, released its report in May of 2005, a year after being hired by RA. The independent research consulting firm 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.
But, according to Reston’s founder, Robert E. Simon, the entire closure discussion could have been avoided “if the consultant was instructed what to look for.”
“He was looking for money and that’s not we’re about — we're about neighborhoods,“ said Simon. “I think it would be really terrible if any of our neighborhood pools were closed.”
AT A PUBLIC HEARING Monday night held by RA’s planning committee on parks and recreation, more than 40 people echoed Simon’s sentiment, urging the committee to save the two pools.
The crowd of about 80 people, including dozens of children, filled the cafeteria at Langston Hughes Middle School to support the preservation of the two pools.
The committee heard emotional testimony from several speakers, including Julie Smyers, a young girl who often meets her friends at Tall Oaks pool. “I’d be really sad if you closed it,” Smyers said through tears.
Many residents questioned the timing of the hearing since the community had recently voted overwhelmingly to support changes to the governing documents. During the campaign leading up to the referendum, RA board members promised that amenity closures could be avoided with approval of the new documents.
Doris Lyons, who supported Shadowood pool and voted yes in support of the new governing documents, said RA was already reneging on their campaign promise. “I’m starting to wonder if that was the right vote,” said Lyons.
MOST SPEAKERS pointed out that Reston was built on the premise of having neighborhood amenities.
Sally Carroll, a supporter of Tall Oaks Pool, couldn’t understand why RA has put so much stock in the findings from the PROS report, which bases its pool closure recommendation on the national average of community pools. “What’s so good about being average?” said Carroll. “We didn’t move here by mistake.”
Carroll also agreed with several other speakers that the community supported the referendum on the governing documents to ensure RA had the future financial flexibility it needed to preserve neighborhood amenities, especially pools.
Many residents feared their pool alternative if their respective neighborhood pool were closed. Supporters of Tall Oaks pool said children would end up walking across a dangerous intersection of Wiehle Avenue to get to the next closest pool.
Supporters of Shadowood pool said their next closest pool is Glade pool, which several residents claimed is over capacity on most days. “It is so crowded you can’t get a comfortable swim in,” said Debbie Shaffer.
While extensive renovations to some neighborhood pools, like Glade pool, have made them destination pools, many in the audience said they like the fact that their pool is not a destination pool.
RA FORMED the Parks and Recreation Planning Committee soon after the PROS report was released.
Around the same time, Debbie Shprentz organized an effort to save her neighborhood pool, creating Save Tall Oaks Pool (STOP). Since its formation last summer, the group has organized a protest in front of the pool, created a Web site (www.SaveTallOaksPool.com), and presented RA with a petition to save the pool signed by about 300 residents.
Reston pools on average run at 32 percent of capacity, according to the PROS report.