Crozet Park board member Drew Holzwarth unveiled big plans for Claudius Crozet Park at the August 21 Albemarle County Board of Supervisors meeting, launching a push for a major expansion to existing facilities in the park. “There is a critical need for additional indoor recreation space in the county, and this is an opportunity for us to build a truly transformative facility for county residents,” said Holzwarth. The new space would be dubbed the Crozet Park Aquatic and Fitness Center, and its advocates hope to have it open by 2022.
The proposed expansion envisions a 47,000-square-foot recreation center, to include a multi-purpose gym, fitness and wellness areas, an indoor track, a community room, a stay and play area, and more. The Claudius Crozet Park (CCP) board hopes to fund the $6.5 million project via a public/private partnership with Albemarle County, in which the county would contribute $2.4 million over the next two years.
A good sport
The demand for a large recreation center in the western district has been highlighted in county reports for the last fifteen years. A 2004 county needs assessment for recreational facilities recommended a “Crozet Center” of approximately 31,500 square feet, and a 2018 Parks and Recreation study pointed to Crozet Park as an “opportunity to develop a community park in a growing area of the county.” The 2018 report emphasized using “existing [already owned] lands” and “public-private partnerships to develop facilities,” both of which are integral to the proposed project.
First donated by a Crozet resident to the community in 1958, the 22-acre park has operated under a restrictive covenant agreement since 1985 that stipulates it be used solely for recreational and public purposes. Albemarle County has long been a park partner, said Kim Guenther, CCP board president. “We give Parks and Rec first dibs on our soccer and baseball fields, and they maintain those fields and help with snow removal,” she said. “In the past, we’ve been helped by county funding to enlarge and resurface the parking and to build the dog park, and our board members volunteer to help with seasonal maintenance of the grounds, so it’s a strong relationship.”
Though some residents might assume the current facility is a YMCA, the park actually contracts with the Y to operate the pool, hire employees, and manage membership. Once the new center is underway, the park will issue a call for bids to operate the new facility, and the Y is expected to bid for the contract along with other rec management companies. “The park is a private, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization,” said Guenther. “It’s community-owned, and all 14 board members live in Crozet.”
A running start
As Crozet’s population has surged, “the current facility is now inadequate due to its membership growth and size to meet the recreational needs/desires of the community,” read a CCP statement on the project. Currently housing a pool, small fitness center, baseball and soccer fields and Quick Start tennis courts, and hosting the popular Peachtree Baseball and Softball League and the Crozet Gators swim team, the park could serve many more of the populace in an expanded facility.
“We’ve worked with a national consultant called Gro to think about the inside of the space to maximize opportunities for recreation for all ages,” said Holzwarth. The plan boasts close-to-home programming for seniors, an area dedicated to physical therapy, and a teen flex/STEM room. The proposed building nestles into the southwest corner of the current pool and uses existing parking lots.
A critical after-school care would also be addressed by the Aquatic and Fitness Center. In a letter to the BOS conveying School Board support for the project, Albemarle County School Board chair Jonno Alcaro lauded “the prospect of a substantial increase in the number of families able to meet the after-school enrichment needs of their children.” Where the current after-school care program operated at the park is limited to 27 students, the proposed expansion would be able to accommodate as many as 300 students, with plans to provide bus service to the facility directly from local elementary schools.
A heavy lift
Of the $6.5 million total cost of the project (which the CCP refers to as Phase One), the group will ask the county to fund $2.4 million, with the remainder financed through a community fundraising campaign and structured debt from a local bank. Holzwarth noted Crozet’s track record of fundraising success, pointing to the Crozet Library, dog park, and the park’s field lighting project as recent examples.
To make the pitch, the CCP stresses efficiencies of scale. “It’s about how the Board of Supervisors can take their limited funds and leverage them to get the most for their investment,” said Holzwarth. “In this project, for $2.4 million they will get a 9-million-dollar facility, if you include the value of the land it’s on, and that’s a very good deal.”
Charlottesville’s recently-built Brooks YMCA is a 79,000-square-foot facility that cost $19 million. So how can the Crozet Park Center be 60 percent of Brooks’ size but only one-third of the cost? “For starters, this will be a metal building,” said Holzwarth. “These are lifetime structures that are really energy efficient, and they go up much faster because the large panels are built elsewhere and brought in.” U.Va.’s new Squash Center at Boar’s Head Sports Club is a metal-clad building.
“Also, because they built the pool underneath the same structure as the whole rest of their facility, Brooks had to have an HVAC system that cost over $4 million alone,” he said. The Crozet Center won’t require that kind of investment even if it adds a future pool, as it would be housed in its own building. “So, the structures are really apples and oranges.”
Changes to the county’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) funding process, which is now done annually by committee, led the CCP to present its plan to the BOS a bit sooner than expected in order to be included in this year’s group of considered projects. “We have to submit a minor site plan with the county, and we are now finalizing the dimensions of the outside perimeter with the help of [local architect] Design Develop and [local engineer] Scott Collins,” said Holzwarth. Still in the “quiet phase” of fundraising, the CCP hopes to begin its appeal to the wider community later this year or early next.
The CCP’s board is confident about its role in the funding partnership. “We’re fortunate that where we live, we have an enormous amount of wealth in this community, and we feel confident that when we reach out to the stakeholders and community members, we’ll come up with an amount that allows us to be debt-free by the time the facility opens,” Holzwarth told the BOS.
Make a splash
Based on community surveys and discussions with current users, the CCP board is well aware that many residents would love to have a second pool at the site, to provide enough space for both recreational swimming as well as swim lessons and Crozet Gators swim team activities. Guenther, an avid swimmer herself, says that’s definitely part of the plan. “We know that a new pool will cost about $275,000 per lane, so a 10-lane pool in its own enclosed building will cost between $2.5 and $3 million, and that was just too much to include in Phase One of the project, so that is Phase Two,” she said.
“We’ve been very intentional with the design of Phase One to prepare for a second pool,” said Holzwarth, “so we’re moving the pump room and doing all the mechanicals to be ready to add the pool in Phase Two.” A new pool building would sit beyond the basketball courts to the east of the Phase One building, and would link to the locker rooms and pool deck leading to the outdoor pool.
Eye on the ball
Upon the conclusion of Holzwarth’s presentation to the BOS in August, which was informational and not (yet) a direct request for funding, he asked for questions from the members, and several made pointed comments about the proposed project funding.
“You just commented on the enormous amount of wealth in the community, yet you’re asking taxpayers, many of whom live in the northeast or southeast parts of the county that will never use a Crozet YMCA facility—why should they dedicate $2.4 of scarce resources to this recreation facility?” Supervisor Rick Randolph asked. “Why should the county pony up 36.8 percent of the financing?”
Supervisor Diantha McKeel was disturbed by the amount of county funding involved. “I’m struggling a little bit with this,” she said, speaking slowly and with emotion. “This amount of money leveraged in the urban ring area where we have a high level of poverty would really improve the lives of people in that area.”
Supervisor Liz Palmer said that though she can see the value in what the CCP is proposing, she is troubled by the immediacy of the need. “We have had projects in the CIP budget for years, and it bothers me that you need this in the next two years, so this has to jump in front of a lot of other things already in the CIP.”
McKeel highlighted the long list of children waiting for after-school care in her district, and said that funding should be looked at through an equity lens.
Supervisor Norman Dill expressed concern about the environmental impact of such a large building, while Supervisor Ned Galloway was intrigued by the possibility of busing after-school kids directly to the new center.
Finally, Supervisor Mallek summed up by remarking that there’s never a perfect time to bring up a big capital opportunity like this, and that the board will need some time to consider the expansion plan more fully.
Despite the pushback, Holzwarth and Guenther remain optimistic about the project. “In 2014 when we joined the [park] board, we did a community-wide survey about what people wanted to see in the park, and from that we made a capital roadmap,” said Guenther. “Since then we’ve checked things off—trails, dog park, new parking, everything except the new facility. Now we’re ready, and we’ve got the support of the community, and it’s going to be fantastic.”
For additional information or questions about the project, please email [email protected].
Holzwarth will be at the Crozet Community Advisory Committee (CCAC) meeting on Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. at Crozet Library to present the project and answer questions from the community.