Community center vision coming into focus

‘Go-big’ option is $59 million facility with two pools, multi-purpose rooms, indoor walking track

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As a vision of the long-awaited Camas-Washougal Community Center starts to take shape, one component that seems to be a must-have is some sort of replacement for the now-shuttered Crown Park swimming pool in Camas.

A community center committee recently compared three possible versions of the future center. All three options included a recreation pool, and two of the three also had competition pools and indoor walking tracks. Though there is no consensus on many components of the planned community center — including how it might be funded or where it might be sited — the one thing most committee members can agree on is that they need to keep all their options open.

“They basically said, ‘Let’s lay it out for the largest options,'” Camas City Administrator Pete Capell said. “It’s easier to take things away because you don’t want them or can’t afford them than it is to add them to a site.”

For the moment, the committee’s “go-big” option is a 87,000-square-foot center with a 7,500-square-foot recreational pool, an eight-lane competition pool and an indoor walking track. Early estimates pin the price tag for this “all the bells and whistles” community center at more than $59 million. But, like funding options and site locations, these figures are all in flux as the cities take early steps toward a long-awaited gathering place.

“These are big numbers. We’ll have to see what is feasible and what the community can support,” Washougal City Administrator David Scott said.

Members of Opsis Architecture facilitated the Oct. 3 committee meeting and said future meetings would give the committee a more tangible sense of what the options actually look like.

“We’re tasked to start on, ‘What’s realistic? What’s pragmatic?’ Then we have to stir all that together,” Scott said.

Location, location, location

The Oct. 3 community center committee meeting opened with a review of two site contenders: the Georgia-Pacific site and the Goodwill/Vancouver Clinic site.

The former is around 26 acres, located in Northwest Camas and currently owned by Georgia-Pacific (G-P). There are some challenges in topography at the G-P site, meaning the full extent of the property isn’t viable for construction, but the committee seemed confident that there was plenty of space for a community center.

Capell said the city was in talks with G-P and could likely take the property at a “reasonably low price,” including some structures that would need to be removed.

Randy Curtis, a Camas Parks and Recreation commissioner, said he favored the G-P site. Curtis later explained his thinking to The Post-Record, saying Camas seems to be expanding west and northwest. A community center on the edge of downtown Camas would be accessible to those new citizens. Any farther, and he said folks might just head the other direction.

“It may be hard to even draw those people to Camas’ downtown. They’re more likely to go west to 192nd (Avenue),” Curtis said.

He pointed out that the rest of the site could be repurposed for later projects.

“What I like about this piece, if we think out into the future, this is far too large just for the community center,” Curtis said. “Think about what other uses this could be put to.”

Washougal officials, however, expressed concern about bringing a proposal for a community center on the far side of Camas to their council and voters.

The Goodwill/Vancouver Clinic site rests just north of the double roundabouts near the Port of Camas-Washougal, in between the two cities. Goodwill owns 2 acres on the site and Vancouver Clinic owns the other 5 acres. This is flat, ready-for-construction land. Due to that, and its central position, this seemed to be the favorite location at the Oct. 3 meeting.

“I think a site that’s right on the city border has attractiveness as far as folks being able to rally around it in either community,” Scott told The Post-Record Oct. 8.

Port of Camas-Washougal Commissioner John Spencer also favored the Goodwill/Vancouver Clinic site, saying there are “a lot of good reasons to go there.”

Despite the indecision on location, Spencer pointed out that the two cities were working together well.

“I’m really encouraged by the working relationship and the discussion,” he said. “They are working better today than they have been the last 15 years.”

What’s inside?

Based on the committee’s discussion, the community’s support — financially and logistically — relies heavily on a recreational pool being included in the final design.

“Certainly, with us having to shut down the Crown Park pool, that’s a huge point of interest for our council,” Capell said.

The design set for test-fitting meets that demand with a 3,500-square-foot recreation pool and a 500-square-foot spa.

That design also features an eight-lane competition pool, a component that didn’t please every committee member. It could be used for diving, emergency or scuba training, water polo and recreational or competitive lap swimming, depending on the final design. Capell and Scott both said more outreach was required to see if this was something the community was set on.

The committee is comprised of representatives from both cities, the Port of Camas-Washougal and the Camas and Washougal school districts.

Although the school districts and others have been quick to advocate for the competition pool, it amounts to at least a $10 million difference in total cost, Curtis pointed out. And, he said, while dozens of folks can usually be spotted in a recreational pool, there may be times when only a few are in the competition pool.

Aquatic areas are tricky, Curtis said, because they aren’t usually money-makers.

“Aquatic centers in most communities never pay for themselves,” Curtis told The Post-Record, pointing to a design sheet that included dozens of other community center features such as a commercial kitchen, multi-purpose classroom and a divisible community room, which could host approximately 200 people. “These programs here help subsidize the pool.”

Two of the three offered designs include the track, while one design does not. Design firm staff said it would not be feasible to add the track later.

The designs also show plans for a two-court gym, multi-purpose exercise rooms, a 3,500-square-foot weight room and an elevated walk/jog track.

Sticker shock

Asked what came as a surprise during the Oct. 3 meeting, many committee members said the price tag was a bit of a shock.

“The cost per square foot was double what I thought it would be,” Spencer said. “I’m sure we’re all staring at those numbers and wondering how we’re going to afford it.”

Opsis Architecture pinned a rough total for the selected design at more than $59 million. However, factoring in inflation during development as well as sales tax, Curtis said $65 million was probably more accurate — and noted even that figure was conservative.

No one is of the mindset that asking taxpayers to shoulder that whole load is a good idea. But there are some options to reduce the burden.

“You want to get it down to a number where the taxpayers feel like they’re getting a $65 million facility, but only have to pay for $10 or $20 million of it,” Curtis said.

Two potential partners were floated who could help with construction or operational costs: Vancouver Clinic — which owns part of one of the potential sites — and the YMCA, a group that Curtis said had expressed “very tentative” interest in the project. It’s too early to say how realistic these partnerships are.

Another route is private funding. Whether it’s a few huge donations or crowdsourced fundraising, Spencer said this was going to be essential.

“If we’re going to build anything of substance, we’re going to need significant private funding,” he said.

Although money has to be part of the discussion, a conversation about funding mechanisms is still a long way off.

“My sense is that, before you ask people to vote on any bonds or donate money, you gotta have a vision, you gotta be able to show people what that money would do,” Capell said.

On that note, Opsis Architecture is off to work on test fits for the two potential sites. They’re set to return them to the committee Nov. 7 — but they could delay until December if the work isn’t finished.

Then, the committee and firm will work to combine the interests of officials and citizens with the constraints of budget and an eye to the future.

“It’s a very interesting balancing process of providing enough programs that people really want to support it, but not doing so much that the whole project fails,” Curtis said. “We just haven’t quite addressed all the 800-pound elephants in the room yet.”