In 2006 voters authorized Prince William County to issue $11 million in bonds to make improvements to park facilities in the county. Among the improvements residents wanted was an expansion of the swimming lanes at the Chinn Center. The expansion never happened, nor did any of the other promised improvements. The county reportedly issued the bonds in 2011, though no one I’ve asked seems to have any clue what the bonds were actually used for.
We’re 7 years past 2006 and our indoor swimming facilities are even more inadequate than they were then. School age children routinely swim at 4:30 in the morning to get practice in before school starts. Swimming lessons fill up within days of being announced. Pool space in the evening for recreation is next to impossible to find. Clubs and swim teams have to put 6 – 8 swimmers or more in a lane at a time for practice because the lanes simply aren’t available.
We needed additional swimming facilities in 2006 and we need them even more now. Unfortunately the county’s plan for filling that need is to do nothing. Not one Supervisor has adding additional swimming facilities on their list of priorities. Not a single one.
As the recession has drug on longer than anyone expected, funding for our schools hasn’t increased enough to provide for school operations. To balance the budget the school division has cut programs and increased class sizes to the state maximum. PWCS has the largest class sizes in the state. My son’s math class has 35 students in it with one teacher. Many classrooms have 38 – 40 students in them with one teacher. The state recommends one compliance officer per 1,000 special needs students; PWCS has one compliance officer for 3,000 students. Programs like Learn and Serve and Art have been cut because the school division can’t afford to provide them. My children’s elementary school cut the Science Lab teacher because they didn’t have the money to continue to staff the position. Some schools didn’t purchase enough textbooks for their students because they couldn’t afford them.
Unfortunately, as has become far too common these days, the school division, which can’t afford textbooks and is cutting programs, is seen as the answer to solving the problem. PWCS plans to build a two pool aquatics complex at the 12th high school. The aquatics complex is projected to cost $10.5 million to build with annual operating and debt service expenses of approximately $1.5 million. The pool’s expenses will be paid for with money PWCS receives from county taxpayers; money that would otherwise be used in classrooms will be diverted to pay for the pool.
Some of our BOCS members openly support the pool. BOCS Chairman Corey Stewart has stated that he will spend his summer drumming up support for the school pool. What Chairman Stewart hasn’t said is why he believes the school division should be responsible for providing the pools and not the county through parks and recreation.
PWC Parks and Recreation currently operates two indoor pools in recreation centers in the county – Chinn and Dale City. They have systems that are designed to schedule and organize classes for programs that county residents want. They have staff that are trained to maintain pools, manage staff, supervise lifeguards, and recruit and supervise qualified instructors. Adding one more indoor pool complex wouldn’t be that much of a stretch for county parks and recreation. They could open and operate another pool that meets the needs of the entire community with ease.
The school division, on the other hand, hasn’t operated an indoor pool since the 80’s or 90’s when the pool at Independent Hill was closed. They’ll have to figure out what classes people want, figure out what staff are needed to run those classes, recruit and train that staff and verify that the staff they recruit can work with children in a public school. They’ll need to learn what sort of maintenance is needed on indoor pools and will have to hire qualified, cleared people to maintain the pool. They’ll have to purchase systems for scheduling and organizing classes. They’ll have to hire experienced pool managers, recruit and train qualified lifeguards, hire pool maintenance workers, and recruit and train qualified instructors- and that’s just the beginning. And because the pool will be a school division asset, the programs they offer will be geared towards meeting the needs of the school division, not the community as a whole. Just like private clubs and recreation leagues are prohibited from using high school football and baseball fields, private swim clubs could be prohibited from using the school division’s pool complex.
Chairman Stewart says he support the school pool. He ought to explain to the public why he believes the communities needs would be better met if the school division managed and operated the pool complex rather than parks and recreation.
Some of our BOCS members have said that the school division can do whatever it wants with its money. They’ve said that they don’t have the authority to tell the school division what it can and can not do. They are correct. They don’t have the authority to tell the school division that it can’t build a pool complex. However, they do have the authority to negotiate with the school division to have the pool complex operated and paid for by parks and recreation.
To me the answer is clear. The community as a whole wants additional indoor swimming facilities. We’ve wanted them for years. But it’s the community as a whole that wants addition indoor swim facilities – not just high school swim teams. We need more indoor swim facilities for lessons for children, exercise for adults, water polo leagues, private swimming clubs, play, and high school swim teams. Because parks and recreation’s purpose is to provide recreation facilities for the community as a whole, not just high school swim teams, then this pool complex should be managed and paid for by the county through parks and recreation.
That will only happen if our BOCS members direct county parks and recreation staff to reach an agreement with the school division. It’s time for our BOCS members to step up and state their opinions, because the only way the county will begin negotiating with the school division for control of the pool complex is if they do.
This is what an overcrowded classroom looks like, without students. This classroom is a PWCS Middle School Math room.