Camas will not purchase LaCamas Swim & Sport

Council questions whether Camas residents want it as a community center

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After hearing a lot of discussions and questions during the Camas City Council workshop and meeting Monday, Mayor Scott Higgins concluded that the consensus among a majority of council members was that they did not want to move forward with the purchase of LaCamas Swim & Sport.

It was a consensus, not a vote, since it was not listed on the council meeting agenda. The workshop discussion had been continued to the regular meeting.

The potential bond amount to purchase LaCamas Swim & Sport would have been for $5.4 million, plus the appraised value of the land, $1.2 million. The amount of a general obligation bond would include the cost of $500,000 in planned improvements, such as exterior retrofit, signage, painting and upgrading finishes and additional locker rooms.

“There were a lot of different opinions up there,” Randy Curtis, chairman of the Community Center Development Committee, said regarding the City Council after the meeting. “I sense council does not want to put it away, but they were not ready to vote.”

During public comments at the meeting, Dave Lattanzi, of Camas, said he did not support the purchase of LaCamas Swim & Sport, but he would like to see a community center.

“Whose vision is it to buy an athletic club and call it a community center?” he asked. “Certainly not the vision of the residents of Camas.”

During the meeting, Curtis talked about a potential partnership with the Camas School District that could offer learn-to-swim programs and generate revenue.

“The community needs the aquatic center,” he said. “$3 million replaces the pool [in Crown Park] today. It is only open for three months.”

The aquatic center at LaCamas Swim & Sport is open year-round.

The health and fitness center, located at 2950 N.W. 38th Ave., Camas, features a gymnasium, group exercise room, three pools, fitness and spin rooms, a spa and child care area.

During the workshop, several council members said they would favor having Camas voters decide the fate of the purchase.

Curtis said he did not support having the issue go to voters, but if it did, he said they would need answers.

He said $4,000 in a Community Center Development Committee fund could go toward an educational campaign.

“There is work to do yet,” Curtis said.

He estimated $250,000 have been spent on studies regarding a community center during the past 15 years.

Councilman Tim Hazen said he started out opposed to a community center, but then he toured the Firstenburg Community Center in Vancouver, with Councilwoman Shannon Turk, Monday.

“I saw a community coming together,” Hazen said. “There was an 85-year-old lady working out on weights, and there were toddlers in the pool.

“I need to balance that with the financial piece,” he added. “It broadened my view.”

Hazen said the city should continue to work on the community center issue.

“It is an asset to strongly consider,” he said.

Hazen said later it would be hard for him to get behind purchasing LaCamas Swim & Sport.

Councilman Don Chaney said the community needs to be engaged to identify priorities — its needs versus its wants — in order to build a consensus, a philosophy, while also considering future demands on the budget.

“There is a lack of organized focus in the city,” he said. “It’s about economics.”

During Higgins’ first attempt to determine a consensus, he left the “door open for additional work to be done.

“There is compelling evidence the community wants this,” he added. “We have limited time and resources. It is difficult to come to this conclusion.”

Councilman Greg Anderson said he was in favor of the concept of the purchase, but he was not in favor of the funding mechanism. He said it would require more work from the city staff to inform the community.

Councilwoman Linda Dietzman said she wanted a community center, but she was concerned about the funding aspect.

“The $465,000 debt service really bothers me,” she said.

During Higgins’ second attempt to determine a consensus, he said it was a “no” regarding spending bond funds, but dialogue could continue.

Chaney said he has received feedback from people in the community who wonder why the council was considering the purchase.

“Many are not well-informed,” he said.

Chaney said he would not want to impose more staff time on a “maybe.”

Chuck Clark, of Camas, said during the workshop there should be open house presentations and discussions regarding the potential purchase.

“There needs to be a public involvement plan, with a broad segment of the population,” he said.

Cassi Marshall, a member of the Community Center Development Committee since 2007, spoke in support of the acquisition of LaCamas Swim & Sport.

She said it would not be prudent to invest any more money in the pool at Crown Park.

Bob Hinkel, the original owner of LaCamas Swim & Sport, asked if the pool at the fitness facility was the draw.

“It is the single biggest hole you will fill,” he said.

Hinkle said the eight-lane lap pool is similar to the basketball court.

“It sits vacant a lot,” he said.

LaCamas owner Denise Croucher said the pool is very expensive to run, but it is important to provide swimming lessons to help prevent children from drowning.

“There is a lot of open water in Camas and Washougal,” she said.

In addition to the business, Croucher owns the 41,000 square foot building it is located in. They have been appraised at $4.9 million.

Arne D. Olsen owns 4.5 acres at the LaCamas Swim & Sport site. Croucher is leasing the land from him.