Warrenton’s Crown Jewel

By Posted on Aug 16 2018 | By

The Warrenton Aquatic and Recreation Facility’s gift of wellness

For visitors and new residents to Warrenton, the first impression of the building might be “Wow.” Sited on a landscaped and verdant property just outside the town, it could easily be mistaken for the headquarters of a high-flying tech company.

Instead, it belongs to all the residents of Fauquier County and beyond and has become beloved by those whose quality of life is enhanced by its existence.

Welcome to the $23 million WARF. Please dock your body and step inside the world of wellness.

Opened in September 2007, the 59,738 square foot facility features an 11 lane, 25 yard-by-25-meter, 364,000-gallon indoor competition pool; a 3,600-gallon therapeutic spa and a 68,000-gallon leisure pool with a water slide, lazy river with a zero-depth entry for easy access by youngsters and seniors.

Oh, then there’s the 3,200 square foot fitness room equipped with cycles, treadmills elliptical trainers, circuit training gear and free weights.

The only thing missing is the discipline to take advantage of this workout wonderland; members and guests provide that.

As it completes its first decade of existence, the WARF is poised to become even more integral to Fauquier County’s healthy lifestyle.

All of this fun is orchestrated by Margaret Rice and her team. Rice, Director of Warrenton’s Department of Parks and Recreation, has been with WARF almost from its beginning nearly 11 years ago. A more qualified director would be hard to conjure up.

With a B.S. degree in music management, Rice worked for the Fairfax Symphony before earning an MBA with a concentration in finance. Not satisfied to rest on her sheepskins, she rounded out her educational resume by scoring a law degree.

During a portion of her career she took time off to raise three daughters, reinforcing the old adage, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.”

If the WARF is run like a Swiss watch, it’s because its gifted administrator is winding the stem.

“It’s a strange combination of degrees but weirdly all of them have applicability to what I do now. The law degree is especially handy in dealing with the many contracts here at WARF,” said Rice.

And what does she do? She has responsibility for all WARF operations plus the four town parks. Besides a paid staff of six, she manages about 100 part-time employees who run the day-to-day programs. A handful of volunteers staff the childcare room in exchange for free membership.

Fees & programs
The fee structure for the facility is based on where one lives and if you elect to become a member or an occasional walk-in. The membership rates are based on residency location:  in town, in Fauquier County or non-resident and range from $365 up to $575 annually. One day pass fees are based on residency and age and are priced from $4.50 to $8.50. Currently there are 1,700 members who are joined by many daily walk-ins.

Regardless of how one gains admission to the facility once inside the fun begins…seven days a week.

“We have a lot going on, from pre-swim classes, fitness classes, yoga—both water and land—spin classes, Zumba and even something called “Pound” that uses drums. That’s really a workout and you don’t even notice it because you’re having so much fun.

“Hopefully, everyone finds something that works for them,” said Rice.

In fact, everything fitness is available for anyone seeking a better self; even the wee ones get in the act with over 2,000 children a year learning to swim and having fun on the water slide in the leisure pool.

But not all the joy is within the facility’s walls. A popular asset for both kids and parents is the sponge playground located on the right side of the building.

Stocked with numerous kid pleasers such as jungle gyms, seesaws, swings and other self-play equipment, the entire surface is layered with a sponge-like material that protects children from cuts, scratches, and for the rest of us ear shattering screams of a child down on gravel or asphalt.

But the fun jewel was not inexpensive with the playground’s invoice coming to $250,000; worth every penny if parents get a vote.

Another youth initiative was started this summer with the planting of a garden near the building. Youngsters come out and tend the plot and then go in for a swim. “We truly try to develop things that the community wants,” said Rice.

Revenues and the future
When the multi-million-dollar facility was built is was financed in part by bonds; that debt is being paid off over time. However, operating expenses are in line with income making the fitness center a self-paying operation.

Last year, it produced an income of $1.356 million with expenses totaling $1.346 million. “Weirdly, our revenue is divided into thirds; memberships, day passes and program fees,” said Rice.

Not one to rest on past successes, Rice sees opportunities for expansion of the WARF’s community involvement.

“We are looking at some interesting ideas but not quite ready to share yet. We’d like to get into partnerships and like to do something with employee fitness and wellness. We’re kicking around some ideas like that.

“We do have WARF on Wheels where we send our instructors to nursing homes, schools and the community of disabled people and talk to them about fitness and do something with them, depending on the ability of the population we are dealing with,” said Rice.

She also sends instructors into the town parks for free outdoor fitness classes for folks who are unable to travel to the facility. “We are trying to reach out into the community and reach people who may not be able to come into the building but could benefit from having information on a healthy lifestyle and fitness, even showing the chair bound they can do exercise with their arms.”

Linda Wright, a resident of Warrenton, is not a weekly visitor to the WARF but enjoys it when she goes. “I love that it’s a clean facility. I love the lazy river, it’s so unique. To have that in Warrenton is fun.

“It’s a friendly atmosphere. I like it when kids are around; the mix of age groups is great,” said Wright.

For Margaret Rice her job as director has been a joy. “It’s been a wonderful journey over the years finding our place in the community. It’s so much fun.

“I think our staff are the luckiest people in Warrenton. We get to see everybody in the community and they’re all happy when they arrive here. I feel lucky every day when I come to work,” she said.

For a full description of programs, hours, fees, special events and more, tap your keyboard for wellness at:


Published in the August 15, 2018 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES