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Votes

Aquatics Center On the Ballot

State-of-the-art facility to be considered by voters this fall.

— When they head to the polls this November, voters may be thinking of Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps.

That’s because the Arlington County ballot will include a $42.5 million bond initiative to create an aquatics and fitness center at Long Bridge Park — the largest dollar amount of any capital-improvement project on the ballot this year. Voters will also determine the fate of a $2.5 million interchange to help handle the additional traffic to the park. The efforts are part of a second phase of construction at the north edge of Crystal City, replacing an old industrial area with a new public space along Roaches Run.

“Fairfax County has a number of these, but Arlington does not have competitive swimming pools other than the ones at the high schools.”

Kurt Louis, park service manager, Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation

“It will be a state-of-the art aquatics center,” said Kurt Louis, park service manager of Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation. “Fairfax County has a number of these, but Arlington does not have competitive swimming pools other than the ones at the high schools.”

Last November, the first phase of Long Bridge Park opened to the public. It included three synthetic fields, a half-mile esplanade and a dramatic Wave Arbor featuring kinetic wings that undulate in the breeze. Now phase two is in the designing stages. When it’s all said and done, the complex is expected to include an aquatics, health and fitness center featuring a competition pool, teaching pool, family leisure pool, therapy pool, wet classrooms and party rooms. The facility will also have an indoor fitness area for cardiovascular equipment and weight training, fitness classes and community space.

“We would be able to host local and regional swim events,” said Erik Beach, county planner. “It could host water polo and diving as well as college events.”

PLANNING FOR Long Bridge Park began in 2001, and the County Board adopted a master plan in 2004. The site was originally known as “North Tract,” but was renamed “Long Bridge” in 2008 to honor the bridge erected by the Washington Bridge Company in 1809. County officials knew the site would be ideal for a park because the site features sweeping views of the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial as well as the Pentagon, the Air Force Memorial and Crystal City. Although it sounds exciting, don’t hold your breath for Arlington County to host the Olympics — or even the Olympic trials.

“Olympic events are difficult because they are looking for a lot more seating that we are putting in this facility,” said Beach. “They are looking for 30,000 seats for the trials, and we are only going to have 700 because obviously our first market is Arlington residents.”

Back in 2005, voters approved the first round of funding for the first phase. Now, voters will once again be asked to borrow money again to create a massive new aquatics and fitness center. County officials say the downturn in the economy creates an ideal circumstance to finance and construct the facility, taking advantage of low interest rates while providing an economic stimulus to the local economy at the same time.

“This project is well-planned, well-designed and overdue,” said County Board member Jay Fisette when the project was originally approved in 2009.

THE HISTORY of the area formerly known as the North Tract dates back to colonial times, when it was used for farming, hunting and fish camps. Shortly after the area became incorporated into the original District of Columbia, the Long Bridge was constructed to bring people from Alexandria to the capital and back. When the British attacked Washington in 1814, they burned the D.C. end of the bridge while the Americans burned the Virginia side. The Civil War also took its toll on Long Bridge.

“The heavy traffic for Army purposes over the Long Bridge soon made it necessary to rebuild the entire wooden structure and draws,” wrote Arlington historian Cornelia Rose. “This was done in the fall of 1861 by the Quartermaster Department.”

After the war, this area became home to a brick factory that was used to build Fort Myer and rebuild war-torn Alexandria. When the Pentagon was constructed, the area where the park is now located was used as a staging area. It remained an uninviting industrial area for many decades until 1993, when Arlington County reached an agreement with RF&P Railroad, the owner of a parcel known as North Tract. Now that phase one of the Long Bridge Park has opened, many feel that it will help Crystal City transform into a vibrant community.

“We are bullish and primed for a turnaround,” said Angie Fox, president of the Crystal City Business Improvement District. “Adding a world class aquatics center to Long Bridge Park is a phenomenal step forward for this area, and we are all really excited about it.”