On Monday, at the RCA Board meeting, our primary topic of discussion was one
of Reston’s hottest issues: the RCC
proposal to construct a new rec center. It’s no surprise that this was one
of our most spirited meetings ever. We emerged with a new report that takes a
hard look at the questions we need to answer before we decide whether and how to
proceed with a rec center, a resolution calling for much more community input
in the process, and a proposal for achieving that input.
Our report, The Reston Recreation Center Initiative: Unanswered Questions
on Need, Facilities, Location, Financing, and Decision Making, was drafted
by our stellar analyst Terry Maynard. The paper spotlights issues that haven’t
been resolved yet in the rec center proposal, and raises questions for further
exploration. These questions include:
Community Needs: If you’re familiar with RCC’s long waiting lists for
popular programs (especially in aquatics) and the heavy usage of its facilities,
the need for a new facility may seem like a no-brainer, particularly with the new
residents coming with the Metro. But those new residents mean that Reston
will have other needs too.
We’ll need new
schools. We’ll need updated and expanded public facilities, such as a new
library. We’ll need to maintain RA’s aging infrastructure, and likely provide
new amenities as well. And as RCA has stated repeatedly, we’ll need major
transportation improvements to keep Reston moving and preserve our quality
Unfortunately, we can’t afford to build everything we might want. Given
that, where does a new rec center fall in our list of priorities? Should public
funding be used to meet the demand for new indoor recreation space, or will
private recreation and fitness providers be sufficient?
The updated market survey that’s due on June 3rd should provide
insight on the second question. But the first question can only be answered
through a community-wide discussion of priorities.
Facilities and Services: If we do build a rec center, what
should be in it? The centerpiece of the rec center proposal is an indoor
pool. Should it be a 25-yard pool (like the one RCC has currently), or a 50-meter
pool? Should a leisure pool or a therapy pool also be included? What about
weight rooms or gymasiums? What about meeting rooms? Should we include
features targeted at seniors (such as reading rooms) and youth (such as a game
In general, we believe that the new rec center, if it’s built, should be as
comprehensive as we can make it. Whatever we build will need to meet our
community’s needs for decades to come. We should be as forward-looking as
possible in thinking about future demand. Hopefully, the updated market survey
can provide some guidance here as well.
Location: This has been the most contentious issue so far, with many
speakers at the public hearings opposing the idea of building
at Baron Cameron Park, which has been discussed. RCC says that they have
made no decisions on the location, but the Baron Cameron option is the only one
presented so far. According to RCC representatives at our Monday meeting, they
have not conducted a systematic study of alternative locations.
Our paper presented options that could be plausible alternatives: at Tall
Oaks, on FCPA land near the North County Government Center, at Isaac Newton
Square, and in the southwest corner of Lake Fairfax Park. Surely there are
others. Maybe some won’t prove to be feasible, but the only way to know is to
fully evaluate the options. Our paper also proposes criteria for evaluating
Financing: Currently, RCC proposes to build the facility using their
existing Small Tax District #5. Most other public recreation centers in Fairfax
County, however, were built and funded using the County-wide real estate tax,
and maintained by the Park Authority.
One possibility would be to lobby the County to build the rec center, as they
have done elsewhere. But that would mean waiting at least a decade – and maybe
more – before County capital funds became available. Do we want to wait that
long, or is this a high enough priority that we in Reston should fund it
Other factors may come into play. For instance, how many Restonians vs.
non-Restonians are expected to use the rec center? If it will be used
predominantly by non-Restonians, perhaps County funding makes more sense. If we
do use Small District 5, would adding the facility require raising the current
tax rate? The expected influx of new residents and businesses will provide more
revenue within the current rate, but will the growth be enough to offset the
The updated market survey should provide help here as well. In addition to
providing updated estimates of how much the rec center might cost, it will also
give us an idea of how much of the center’s operating budget might need to be
subsidized by Reston taxpayers.
Decision Process: If Small Tax District #5 is to be used to fund the
rec center, the RCC Board will make the decision to proceed or not. And
ultimately, the citizens of Reston will have the final say, as they would vote
on the rec center bond referendum.
But before we reach that point, much more community input is needed, to
answer the questions described above and more. I give RCC credit for soliciting
public input earlier in the process compared to the Brown’s Chapel proposal in
2009, and they’ve done quite a bit of preliminary research to get us to this
point. But the issues we’ve discussed above impact all of Reston, and we need a
community-wide conversation. Involving the entire community in the discussion
also makes it more likely that the bond referendum, if one occurs, would
How do we hold that community-wide conversation? Our recommendation is for a
panel with representatives from RCC, RCA, and the Reston Association to review
the options (including the questions asked above), take in the full breadth of
community opinion, and recommend a proposal that would provide the best possible
outcome for Reston. At the meeting, Terry cited the example of Aurora,
Illinois, which convened a task force with a broad cross-section of community
representatives working in concert to generate a proposal for its rec center. I
like that model of widespread participation.
Whatever model we choose, we should ensure that the whole community is
represented in the discussion, and that there are multiple opportunities for
them to speak and be heard on this issue. A series of community forums
throughout Reston would be a good way to gather this input.
If you’d like to know more about our recommendations, you can read our report
in full here.
And rest assured that we at RCA are far from done talking about this; we’re
going to continue studying the issue, debating it, and pushing for a process
that generates the best outcome for the community.