Camas business launches 11th hour effort to save pool

Lacamas Athletic Club crafting proposal to buy historic, now-closed pool from city of Camas

Isabella Jackson, 11, of Camas, came up with the idea of creating a "memorial" to the now-shuttered Crown Park swimming pool in Camas. The 11-year-old, who has grown up swimming at the public pool with her family, said she wanted to pay tribute to the pool. "The pool closing makes me sad, because the pool is a safe, fun and healthy environment for children and people of all ages," Isabella told The Post-Record. "The pool is the most fun and popular place to go to in the summer, and I will miss going there every day. I will never forget the Camas city pool. That is where I made most of my friends. That is where I took all my swim lessons there in the summer. The Camas city pool taught people lots of good things, like water safety and obeying rules, and I really wish the pool wasn't closing." (Contributed photo courtesy of the Jackson family)

A last-minute effort to save Camas’ historic, outdoor public swimming pool, currently closed and slated for demolition in the fall, is now underway.

Nathan Murphy, general manager of the Camas-based Lacamas Athletic Club, said Lacamas managers have met with Jerry Acheson, who heads the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, to express interest in buying the pool and attached land, and reopening the 64-year-old swimming facility.

“When we heard about the pool closing, our reaction was shock,” Murphy told The Post-Record in an email regarding the club’s effort to save the facility that, before its closure this year, had been the only public outdoor swimming pool in Clark County. “We knew we had to do something and at least be prepared to help teach more lessons this year, and provide somewhere for people to beat the heat.”

City leaders in Camas decided in late 2017 to close the community pool, which they said was costing taxpayers several thousand dollars each year.

In November 2017, Camas City Council members heard from consultant Ben Johnson, with Greenworks, PC, that the pool was “dying.”

“Almost everything at the pool is failing,” Johnson told the council members, adding that a report from the state’s Department of Public Health showed the city would need to invest about $400,000 to reopen the problematic pool for the 2018 summer season.

Months before Johnson’s presentation, Randy Curtis, chair of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, said the age and condition of the Crown Park pool have concerned city leaders for a while, but that the pool has cost the city more money in recent years.

Camas spent about $75,000 to upgrade and repair the pool before it could open to the public in June 2017.

And while the city does collect revenues from pool users, the pool is not self-supporting. In fact, the city often supplements the pool using general funds. In 2016, the pool brought in $104,010 but cost the city $162,164.

The older the pool gets, Curtis told The Post-Record in July 2017, the more problems it has and the more it costs to repair those problems.

“Every time there is a problem, we worry that it’s something that might close the pool down (for the season),” Curtis said.

After city leaders made their final decision to close the pool, they announced that state law required them to demolish the structure within a certain time frame.

Camas City Administrator Pete Capell said the pool is currently slated to be demolished this fall, but that city leaders would “need to evaluate all of the options before proceeding with demolition.”

Those options, Capell added, include the Lacamas Athletic Club’s promised proposal.

If the city agreed to sell the pool and attached land to the athletic club, city leaders would likely ask for an extension from the state to push back the required demolition date. Murphy said Lacamas Athletic Club owners are well aware of the pool’s needs and limitations.

“We know the pool is aging and could need a full replacement down the road,” he said. “We are working out all costs associated with renovating and operating the pool. Once we have those costs, we will submit the proposal.”

Murphy added that the club’s leaders are more than equipped to run the swimming pool and would likely make changes that allowed for an extended swimming season.

“Because we are accustomed to managing all aspects of pool operations year round — we have two indoor pools and an outdoor pool — we are very aware of the cost and maintenance needs,” Murphy said. “It is much more expensive for the city to train hire and staff the pool each year for a short season versus us being able to share our resources of staff, maintenance workers, supplies, etc. Our goal would be to use the pool exactly as it has been used in the past for the community, and also extend the season by covering it — similar to our outdoor pool that we operate year round.”

The club’s outdoor, eight-lane, 25-meter pool has a metal structure with removable walls and retractable roof that make it usable weeks longer than the Camas public swimming pool’s traditional 10-week season.

“We have had great success with club membership over the last 24 months that has allowed us to make many improvements to our club,” Murphy noted. “We have heard the city wants to build an aquatic center in the near future that would directly compete with us. Creating a partnership would save the city and taxpayers lots of money. We feel partnering with the city at Crown Park pool would be a great way to prove to the community that we care and are here. This is a win-win situation for the city and our locally owned and operated business.”

Murphy said he expects to deliver the club’s proposal to city leaders within the next couple weeks.

“We are able to move quickly on these plans, if the city is willing to come to an agreement,” he said.

The last-minute pool save is just one of the options on the table. The city has already done extensive work on proposals to revamp Crown Park and possibly install a water feature at the park to replace the swimming pool.

Acheson said his department held an open house to view possible Crown Park designs on June 27, and will give the public another chance to view the designs on July 27, during the first day of the annual Camas Days festival.

The draft Crown Park master plan can be viewed at www.cityofcamas.us/parkshome/68-parkscat/819-parksprojects. Want to chime in on the future of Crown Park? Send comments to comments@cityofcamas.us.