Arlington County plans to build a colossal, $80 million aquatics center along the Potomac River and is now asking county voters for permission to borrow tens of millions of dollars to get the project started.

The center would be part of Long Bridge Park in Crystal City and include four pools, an indoor water park and glass walls overlooking the Potomac and the Washington monuments beyond it.

(See a photo gallery with renderings of the planned swimming complex)

But after years of recession-induced reductions in county spending and with potentially devastating federal budget cuts still looming, some are questioning why the county wants to borrow so heavily for swimming pools when it needs millions for roads, schools and other necessities.

Arlington's new aquatic center will include:
- 50-meter by 25-yard pool
- Water park with slides and a lazy river
- Family leisure and therapy hot-water pool
- Teaching pool
- Indoor fitness area
- Community meeting space
- Child care
- Locker rooms
- Administrative offices

"Now is not the time to build a luxury pool," said Arlington Republican Committee Chairman Charles Hokanson, whose organization joined the county Green Party in speaking out against the project. "This is an extraordinarily inflated cost at a time when economic times in Arlington are likely to take a turn for the worst."

Indeed, the $50 million the county wants to borrow mainly for the pool complex accounts for nearly a third of the $153.4 million Arlington voters are being asked to approve on Nov. 6. The other three other bond issues on the ballot would fund schools, sidewalks and Metro-related improvements.

The $80 million pool complex, part of a 30-acre, $121 million park, costs far more than aquatic facilities built recently in other communities. The Germantown Indoor Swim Center in Boyds, Md., was built in 2006 for $20 million. The Wilson Aquatic Center was built in the District three years later for nearly $35 million.

But Arlington County Board Chairwoman Mary Hynes defends the cost, saying the project can't be compared to those facilities, which are smaller and have few amenities.

"How often in a 26-mile community can you grab this much land in such a beautiful setting?" Hynes said.

Board Vice Chairman Walter Tejada also backs the project, saying the county, one of the fastest growing and richest in the country, needs more recreational facilities.

"It's important that we stick to our vision to maximize community benefits and promote a culture of fitness among residents," Tejada said. "There's a huge demand for a facility like this in Arlington."SClBOf the $50 million voters are being asked to approve, about $42 million would go toward the pool complex with the rest being used for other park improvements, including playgrounds and parking. Developers will kick in about $20 million more to finish the pool facility. A portion of a $50 million bond issue Arlington voters approved in 2004 for Long Bridge Park also went to the aquatic center.

In addition to the pool and park, Arlington voters are being asked to approve a $42.6 million bond issue for school construction, $28.3 million for sidewalks and public-building maintenance and $31.9 million for Metro-related improvements.

Arlington voters haven't voted down a bond issue in 33 years. But the last time they did reject one was in 1979, when they shot down a $6 million request for parks.