It’s no coincidence that the tops of two curvy waterslides are visible through the windows of Charlottesville’s new Smith Aquatic & Fitness Center, an $11 million facility that opens Friday.
The aim, officials say, is to show people having fun.
“We’re excited, we really are, to get the doors open,” city Parks and Recreation Director Brian Daly said Monday.
The center, which measures roughly 24,000 square feet and is located on the campus of Buford Middle School, has been under construction for about 18 months.
Features, some visible and some less so, include: six competitive swim lanes, a leisure pool, two water slides, solar panels, fitness rooms and five geothermal wells. Some programs have already started at the new facility, the pools have been filled and the locker rooms are fully functional, and Smith’s official grand opening has been set for noon Friday.
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“I think there certainly is a market for this kind of facility within the city,” said Daly, who estimated that the center would be filled daily to its 300-person capacity.
On Friday and this weekend, residents can go to Smith for free before user fees are charged starting Monday.
In 2007, the City Council agreed that the old Smith Pool would be replaced with the new aquatic center and that Crow Pool would be closed. The council also agreed, on a separate occasion, to let the Piedmont Family YMCA lease acreage in McIntire Park for a new facility that will include pool space.
“The operating costs for two centers are substantial, and now we’re only going to have to pay for one center,” Mayor Dave Norris, who was a councilor in 2007 and voted on the city’s pool plans, said in an interview.
The old Smith and Crow pools, built more than three decades ago, would have needed millions in repairs to keep serving area residents, having become dilapidated after years of use.
“They would require a tremendous amount of money to rehab,” Norris said.
Crow, however, is not slated to close for the time being, though Daly said any expense required to keep it in operation would not add costs to the city budget. For the upcoming season, the city struck a deal with the local YMCA for it to lease lap lanes in Crow Pool, so the nonprofit could have competitive pool space as it waits to break ground on its McIntire Park center.
Daly said the new Smith center requires 10 lifeguards for the pools and seven full-time staff members, and he expects that 50 percent to 60 percent of its operating costs at first will be recouped through fees charged to users.
The city has set up an extensive rate structure for daily admissions, multi-visit passes for 25 visits within one year, and monthly or annual passes. Scholarships and coupons are also available.
An adult who resides in the city would be charged $8 for a daily visit, $170 for a multi-visit pass, $37 for an individual monthly access pass or $370 for an annual pass. For a non-resident, those costs are $11, $247, $49 and $490, respectively.
Family passes are also available: a city family of four can pay $88 to have a monthly access pass or $880 for an annual one; and a non-city family of four would be charged $118 for a monthly pass or $1,180 for an annual pass.
The Charlottesville High School swimming team will have first claim on the facility’s competitive swim lanes — and meets will be visible from an observation deck overlooking that pool — but other area teams could also work with the city for access.
Jake Shrum, the head coach for the boys and girls varsity swimming teams at Albemarle High School, said competitive pool space availability has been an issue for county swim teams. That concern also came up before the city made the decision in 2007 to close Crow and Smith.
Shrum said AHS swimmers use Smith or Crow for their swim meets, but last he heard the high school’s teams would have space in one of those pools.
“I’m glad they were able to update one of the pools,” he said. “They’re both pretty old.”
Apart from some minor touch-ups during the early part of this week, Daly said it should be all-systems-go at Smith by Friday, something long-awaited by those involved with the project.
“I’m looking forward to seeing it soon,” Norris said.
More information on the new Smith center, including the full pricing structure, can be found at charlottesville.org/Index.aspx?page=2807.