Decision to close Camas pool not easy, but was the right call

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

It doesn’t matter if you’re a third-generation Camasonian or a newcomer, the closure and soon-to-be demolition of the city’s historic, 65-year-old outdoor public swimming pool is going to tug at your heartstrings.

There’s something about a public pool that screams “community” and makes all of us long for the long, hot days of summer — and maybe get a little melancholy about youthful days spent jumping into cold water with our friends, or working on our tans beside the pool.

For this East Coast native, who grew up in a small Pennsylvania town where the two public swimming pools were the only place to beat the humidity in the summertime, just saying the word “pool” makes me want to rush out and buy coconut-scented sunscreen, a new bathing suit and a stack of magazines.

There is no doubt in my mind that Camas council members struggled with their decision to close the county’s only public, outdoor swimming pool.

As Camas Mayor Shannon Turk — who sat on the city council when the decision to shutter and demolish the pool was made — said this week, most of the council members remember taking their own children to that pool and no one wanted to see it go away.

“This was a hard decision for council. I really want people to understand that most, if not all, of the council wishes they could provide another pool immediately. The idea of taking away the pool was very difficult because we know what it means to the community,” Turk said. “But we couldn’t keep putting good money after bad. To repair the pool and get it up to code was going to cost between $1.7 million and $2.2 million. Building a new pool was going to cost even more.”

Camas is not alone in its quest to keep a costly swimming pool alive.

According to a 2015 article in Aqua Magazine, more than 2,000 municipal swimming pools closed in the United States between 2009 and 2015. Many of the cities that shuttered their public pools were battling the effects of the Recession. Some couldn’t afford to meet new federal safety requirements mandated by the 2008 Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, which sought to prevent unintentional drownings of children ages 14 and younger.

Other city leaders found the costs of maintaining aging pools — many of which, like the Camas pool, were reaching the end of their lifespan — overshadowed the benefits of a city resource that could only be opened for a few weeks each year.

Camas leaders, to their credit, did look into repairing or replacing the Crown Park pool.

A 2017 report prepared for the city by the Wisconsin-based Water Technology, Inc., shows an aging pool in desperate need of upgrades. In scoring the pool’s condition, the company rated the Crown Park pool a 26.88 out of 100.

“The current pool has exceeded its usable and efficient life,” the Water Technology report states. “The cost of operating the aquatic amenities very likely exceeds the amortized cost of recommended improvements.”

The company estimated it would cost between $1.15 million and $1.55 million to construct a similar pool — and that doesn’t include labor, permitting and other associated costs, Turk pointed out during her interview with me this week.

Faced with shelling out several million dollars to save the swimming pool, which is open for only 10 weeks each year, or spending those dollars to maintain the city’s existing parks and secure future green spaces, the Camas City Council members chose to serve the entire community and close the failing pool.’

Those who loved the swimming pool and wanted their council members to fight harder to keep the pool alive should rest assured the city did not make this decision on the fly or without adequate research.

While the pool’s closure is sad for the whole community, it would have been even more tragic to see city leaders funnel millions of dollars away from much-needed parks maintenance and green space preservation to keep a failing pool afloat.

~ Kelly Moyer, managing editor