Parks update: No date yet for Smith Aquatic Center

Contractor sought to operate Onesty Pool

Charlottesville’s Smith Aquatic and Fitness Center has been closed for nearly two years, but not all of that is related to the pandemic. When everything shut down in March of 2020, the facility had been expected to be closed for at least $1.8 million in repairs to try to finally fix lingering air quality issues. Smith had been expected to open back up last year, but the work wasn’t complete. The goal is for it to open this spring. Vic Garber is the deputy director of the Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Department. 

“We are still working diligently with facilities maintenance to make sure that all of the boxes are checked and to make sure that once we open that darned thing it is going to be safe, it is going to be a good experience, and I would like to say a magical experience,” Garber said. 

Work is also underway to make sure the pool can be staffed. Garber said several new lifeguards have been hired this month. He said there was no date yet for when Smith will open.

Last summer, the outdoor pool at Meade Park was closed due to staffing issues. This Monday, the city issued a request for proposals for companies to take over the operations of the pool. 

Specifications for what Onesty Pool has to offer are within the RFP

“We’re striving to get more staff,” Garber said. “We need more than just a handful of lifeguards to get Onesty open. We need 60 to do that safely and effectively.” 

If the city proceeds to go in that direction, the vendor would be responsible for hiring that staff and for maintaining the pool. 

“There are five or six really well-acclaimed vendors in the nation that do that,” Garber said. “They go in. They actually do it in Fredericksburg. They do it in Asheville, North Carolina.”

This would just be for Onesty Pool, which Garber said is the busiest facility in the city’s pool system. 

“Because of all of the whistles and bells that we have and blind spots, we need more guards there than any place,” Garber said. 

Proposals are due on March 15. There are renovations underway at Onesty to repaint all of the water features and to update the 13-year-old facility. 

There’s been a sharp uptick in usage of the city’s parks in the past two years. Riaan Anthony is also a deputy director of parks and recreation. 

“I am looking at creative ways in terms of how do we meet the demand because trends have dramatically shown us that once the pandemic started, people started using the parks more and more and more,” Anthony said. “And the trend has just continued.”

That means more wear and tear on the parks, and Anthony said there’s a need to keep standards up. He’s considering outsourcing several services such as horticulture and landscaping because there is a struggle to fill existing positions. 

If you’re interested in a new job or know someone, take a look at the city’s jobs board

Anthony also said that the city needs to replace several playgrounds as they are over 20 years old. 

“According to the [Certified Playground Safety Inspector] standards, 20 is your cut off,” Anthony said. “You need to replace it. That’s like the last end limit and we have a few.” 

First up will be Meade Park and Belmont Park. Anthony said public input sessions will be held to get feedback from community members. 

A nonprofit group is fundraising to build a playground in Pen Park, as we learn from parks planner Chris Gensic about Bennett’s Village.

Bennett’s Village, which is a nonprofit group that’s proposing to fundraise and construct and effectively donate to the city an all-inclusive, all ages playground,” Gensic said. 

Gensic said there will be a public input process for that as well on March 15. There will be a public input meeting for Tonsler Park on March 22. 

Gensic is a member of the stakeholder group planning for a pedestrian and bike bridge over the Rivanna River to connect Pantops and Woolen Mills. The deadline is approaching for an application for Smart Scale funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation and there are two potential sites for where the western end of the bridge will land. 

“And we’re discussing pros and cons and getting public input from a variety of people about if it landed at Riverview Park what would be the pros and cons of that that?” Gensic said. “If it landed at Market Street down by the Woolen Mill, what would be the pros and cons of that?”

To learn more about the options, visit the Thomas Jefferson Planning District’s website. You’ll find a survey there. The Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization will hold a special meeting on March 10 at 1 p.m. to review the options and make a selection.

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the February 16, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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