‘Go big’ community center should ramp up shared spaces, ditch pricey pool

As the long-awaited Camas-Washougal Community Center creeps more toward reality than pipe dream, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate — but also a couple red flags we should all be talking about during these very early planning stages.

Like the assortment of Camas-Washougal community center steering committee members — who have only had two meetings — we must caution our readers that the options and numbers associated with the future community center are still in their infancy and subject to massive alterations.
That said, we were perplexed to see two of the three initial options included very expensive competitive swimming pools in addition to the expected recreation pool.

In the “go big” option committee members seem to favor right now, plans call for a 3,500-square-foot recreation pool as well as a 5,000-square-foot, eight-lane competition pool.

A second option keeps the recreation pool and scales the competition pool down to six lanes and 3,850 square feet. Option No. 3 would keep the recreation pool and do away with the competition pool entirely.

The difference in cost — just for the aquatic spaces — is several million dollars. The option with the largest competition pool would likely cost $59 million before inflation and other site-related costs, with nearly $17 million spent on the aquatic spaces.

The six-lane competition pool option cuts about $1.6 million off the aquatic space cost. Deleting the competition pool option would save about $8.5 million.
Committee members who favor the competition pool seem to be in the minority, but the group is moving forward with a test-fit of the biggest, “all the bells and whistles” option since, as Camas City Administrator Pete Capell said, it’s easier to scale down than scale up. But it would have been nice to see a “go big” option that didn’t include the competition pool — perhaps adding to the community spaces or pumping up the recreation pool, which would serve everyone and not just a few select athletes.

We have no doubt that local and regional athletes would enjoy having a new competition pool in the Camas-Washougal area — after an agreement to use Lacamas Athletic Club’s outdoor competition pool fell through last summer, Camas-Washougal student swimmers found themselves having to drive to east Vancouver for early morning swim practice. One mother of a Washougal swimmer told us she and her daughter have to wake up before 5 a.m. to make it to the Vancouver competition pool on time.

Likewise, there is no doubt that local high school swimmers deserve a facility that matches their impressive abilities — the Camas boys swim team members, for instance, have been named state champions for eight years running.

Unfortunately, we’re not talking about a center for local athletes, but for the entire community. As great as they are, the roughly 80 boys and girls who comprise the Camas and Washougal high school competitive swim teams represent only two-tenths of a percent of the community’s total population and less than 1 percent of school students in Camas and Washougal.

When it comes to building a true “community” center, committee members must think about the big picture and plan for future needs. Camas and Washougal, like many communities in Clark County, are going to have to contend with a rapidly growing population of older folks, or what has been called “the silver wave.”

The most recent U.S. Census Bureau shows the county’s proportion of residents age 65 and older jumped by nearly 40 percent from 2010 to 2016. What’s more, the percentage of seniors is growing more rapidly than other age groups as the massive Baby Boomer generation moves into its late 60s and beyond.

Committee members need to balance the needs of the entire community and not be swayed by one very small segment of the population. Having an indoor recreation pool — maybe one that includes lap lanes as well as family friendly things like a “slow-moving river,” slides and a toddler section — is something the majority of community members would likely support.

Throwing millions of dollars at a competition pool that fills a niche, but will never serve the majority of the Camas-Washougal community — and likely will never pay for itself — seems wasteful and short-sighted.