Camas eyes bond for community center

City could take issue to voters in November election

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Demolition crews work at the site of the former Crown Park swimming pool in Camas on March 29. With the city's only public swimming pool now demolished, Camas Mayor Shannon Turk said Monday this may be the best time for the city to ask voters if they support building a new community center with recreation pool.

Camas officials seem ready to go it alone, if necessary, to get the ball rolling on a future community center and pool.

At a city council workshop meeting held Monday evening, Camas councilors expressed interest in going out for a general obligation bond as soon as the November 2019 general election to see if Camas voters are ready to fund a community center.

“I think we should try to move this down the road and get it going. Let’s put it before the voters,” said Councilman Steve Hogan on Monday. “You know I’m pretty tight with money. And I view this as a want (not a need), but this keeps coming back … and we owe it to the community. Let’s fish or cut bait here.”

Other city councilors agreed, including Greg Anderson, who has seen the issue of a community center rear its head numerous times during his 22 years on the city council.

“I’ve been around a while and the community center is always one of those things … that has been approaching a need and certainly a want for a very long time,” Anderson said Monday, adding that he isn’t sure he can “look people in the eye” anymore when they ask why Camas leaders aren’t doing something about the community center and pool.

“There have been a lot of studies, but no actions,” Anderson said. “I would rather do something and fail than do nothing.”

Camas Councilwoman Deanna Rusch, along with Camas Mayor Shannon Turk and Camas City Administrator Pete Capell, has been attending recent community center meetings with stakeholders from the city of Washougal as well as the Camas and Washougal school districts and the Port of Camas-Washougal.

The Camas-Washougal Community Center Study Advisory Committee has met four times since it formed in August 2018, and is expected to meet again in early May.

In September, the group focused on possible locations. In October, it unveiled a $59 million “go big” option that would have included two pools, multi-purpose rooms and an indoor walking track. On March 6, the group added a third site near Washougal’s Woodburn Hill, and settled on a scaled-down, four-phase community center.

Committee members seem to agree on what should go into the community center — the most recent, four-phase plan calls for a recreation pool, locker rooms, administration area and multipurpose space to be built first with subsequent phases adding a two-court gymnasium then community rooms, classrooms and, finally, a competition pool.

The group has not been so unanimous, however, when it comes to where a Camas-Washougal community center might go.

“The sticking point is location,” Rusch told her fellow and sister Camas city councilors Monday. “My sense of this — and I don’t mean this negatively — is that the Washougal (City) Council and representatives are really attached to the property on ‘C’ Street, and I don’t know how we would sell that property to many of our constituents, especially in west (Camas).”

Rusch said it feels like people “are trying to sell each other on various locations” during the joint Camas-Washougal community center meetings.

Turk said Monday that with the recent demolition of the Crown Park Pool — the only public pool in Camas and the only outdoor, public swimming pool in Clark County — this was probably the city’s best chance to pass a construction bond for a community center that includes a recreation pool.

“There is a sense that if we can’t get a community center and pool through at this point, I don’t know when we would be able to do it,” Turk said.

She added that, although there might be partnership opportunities with Washougal or other stakeholders in the future, if Camas went out for its own community center bond, the city would be “doing it alone.”

Other Camas leaders seemed OK with this idea of “going it alone” and many remembered studies the city had done in 2001, 2007 and 2012 regarding a Camas-only community center and recreation pool.

Councilwoman Melissa Smith said she was ready to go to voters with a bond, but wanted to make sure all Camas-area properties had been considered.

“I’m ready to move forward and fulfill the needs of Camas residents, especially if we can get a pool started,” Smith said.

Councilman Don Chaney agreed: “We do have momentum now that the (Crown Park) pool is down. In all the years I’ve been in this community, (building a community center) is the one issue that keeps resurfacing and resurfacing. For me, I say we move ahead.”

Chaney added he was optimistic Camas voters would pass a bond to build a community center with a pool, but if they didn’t, then city officials “would have that information.”

Capell said it would be a very tight turnaround to get the issue before voters in the November 2019 general election, but that the city could have conceptual plans ready in time for the election deadlines.

“Then, if it passes, we could go into full designs and, based on construction costs, be flexible to scale it up or down,” Capell told the city council Monday. “We will obviously come back to you on a regular basis to keep you informed.”

The council’s newest member, Ellen Burton, said she thought the city would need “an extremely successful communications campaign” if it was to pass a community center bond in November 2019, but that she agreed Camas leaders should “fish or cut bait.”

Although the joint Camas-Washougal community center advisory committee has been focusing on three main sites — including Georgia-Pacific property near downtown Camas, vacant land owned by Goodwill Industries and the Vancouver Clinic in Washougal and the Woodburn Hill site in Washougal — Camas councilors seemed more interested in a 6.3-acre parcel known as the “Buhman property,” which is located on the south side of Lake Road, across from the entrance to Camas’ Heritage Park.

In a 2012, members of the Camas Community Center Development Committee told Camas leaders they favored the Lake Road property because it is close to city-owned land around Fallen Leaf Lake and noted in their report that “many of the nation’s most successful community centers are located adjacent to community parks with connections to regional trail systems.”

On Monday, Anderson said he would want to pursue the Lake Road property for the community center.

Capell said Camas community center groups had studied the property in 2001 and 2012 and that it would be comparable to the Vancouver Clinic-Goodwill property favored by many in the joint Camas-Washougal community center advisory group, but cautioned Washougal representatives likely would not be interested in partnering on a Lake Road community center, due to its central Camas location.

In October 2018, Randy Curtis, a Camas Parks and Recreation commissioner, said he favored the Georgia Pacific site near downtown Camas for a community center. A community center on the edge of downtown Camas would be accessible to the city’s new citizens moving into Camas’ west and northern edges. If the committee built the community center any further east, Curtis said, he feared the center might lose support from Camas’ newest residents.

“It may be hard to even draw those people to Camas’ downtown. They’re more likely to go west to 192nd (Avenue),” Curtis told the Post-Record in October 2018.

Washougal officials, however, expressed concerns in 2018 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. Due to its central position, this seemed to be the favorite location at the Camas-Washougal community center committee meeting in October 2018.

“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,” Washougal City Manager Dave Scott told The Post-Record in October 2018.

The Camas-Washougal Community Center Study committee is set to meet in early May to discuss possible locations, but Camas leaders’ willingness to go to voters on their own may throw a wrench in the committee’s future.

“I’m glad there is finally some real movement on this issue, and I look forward to the day when our community finally has such an important amenity,” Spencer told The Post-Record on Tuesday. “That said, it’s too bad that Camas feels they need to do it alone – without Washougal’s help the facility will be smaller and less able to fulfill the needs of the entire community.

“We need to remember we are one community that is served by two city administrations. We can be stronger and do more when we find ways to work together.”