Turk talks historic pool’s past, future

Q&A with Camas mayor

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Swimmers enjoy a warm day inside the cool waters of the Camas municipal pool, at Crown Park. The city will soon hold a "going away party" for the 65-year-old pool, which closed last year. (Post-Record file photos)

With the city hosting a “Thanks for the Memories” party and demolition scheduled to begin before spring, the fate of Camas’ historic, 65-year-old, outdoor swimming pool should be well known throughout the community.

The pool is not going to reopen. There will be no last-minute save.

Most people understand this. But the reasons behind the pool’s closure seem clouded and misunderstood in online conversations and at public meetings.

To clear up any misconceptions and let community members know exactly what’s happening with the now-shuttered Camas pool, we talked to Camas Mayor Shannon Turk about the past, present and future of Crown Park’s popular summertime cool-off spot.

Post-Record: Can you tell us what led to the decision to close the pool?

Turk: The costs had become a burden. Every year, there was a certain amount of maintenance just to get it running. On average, it was around $50,000 to $75,000 just to get it going. So the pool was very expensive to maintain.

Post-Record: But the city ate those costs to keep the pool open each year?

Turk: Yes, we operated at a loss. And there was a question of putting money into something that only operates 10 weeks out of the year. But what really created the issue was a visit from the Washington State Department of Health.

Post-Record: What did they say about the pool?

Turk: They told us (the pool) had mechanical and structural issues. This was in 2017, in the fall. In addition to the regular costs of getting the pool running, we would have had to spend an additional, well, the estimate was a minimum of $300,000 and costs went up from there. That was what we would have had to spend just to get it open in 2018.

Post-Record: And would that have fixed it for good?

Turk: There was no guarantee those same problems wouldn’t crop up again. We didn’t know if we would spend this money, at least $300,000, and then it would be a year or two before we had the same problem.

Post-Record: So council decided to close the pool after this cost estimate from the state department of health?

Turk: We got the report in the fall of 2017 and, even if we had had the money to put into it, we wouldn’t have been able to get the repairs done in time to open for the summer in 2018. So council decided to close the pool.

Post-Record: And once the city decided to close, the state gave a timeline for demolition?

Turk: Yes, we didn’t meet the requirement. We were supposed to demo within one year.

Post-Record: Are there penalties for not meeting the timeline?

Turk: I don’t believe so, no.

Post-Record: So when can the public expect to see the pool demolished?

Turk: Council just approved the contract last night (at the Camas City Council’s Monday, Feb. 4 meeting), and demolition should start at the end of this month or the beginning of March.

Post-Record: Will it be a long process?

Turk: No. The demolition won’t take very long.

Post-Record: Many people have wondered why the city couldn’t pay to fully repair the pool or even build a new one in its place. Can you explain why council didn’t go down that road?

Turk: 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. 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.

Post-Record: People have said in comments online that they feel city councilors are trying to “gentrify” Camas by taking away the pool, which was an inexpensive activity for families with young children during the summer months. Can you address this concern?

Turk: The pool was affordable and we took that into consideration. Council was originally thinking about putting a water feature in Crown Park, where people could cool off during the summer for free. The water feature is considerably less money than building a new pool, but council hasn’t made a decision on this yet because they’ve heard a lot of comments from people who don’t necessarily want a water feature.

Post-Record: Do you think some of those people are folks who may not realize the pool is not an option anymore?

Turk: Yes. I think once people see the pool is gone, they might reconsider (the water feature).

Post-Record: At one point, Lacamas Athletic Club stepped in and said they were interested in having some sort of public-private partnership with the city and keeping the pool in Crown Park. Later, representatives from the club told us they hadn’t realized the full costs of the proposal.

Turk: Yes, costs were a factor, but also they were proposing to put a pool down in the corner of the park where Scout Hall is. Council didn’t have a conversation about it because it would have been giving away public land for a private, for-profit use, which is something people clearly said they didn’t want last year (when a former city council member proposed buying a piece of publicly owned green space from the city to build a senior living facility near Round Lake).

Post-Record: If the city had decided to find money to repair or rebuild the pool, were there concerns about impacting other city services?

Turk: Yes. I imagine some of our firefighters would have wondered why we could spend $2 million on a pool but not hire the four firefighters we’d planned on. (Due to cost concerns, the city recently approved the hiring of two new firefighters and a fire inspector in 2019 instead of the council’s originally planned-for four firefighters and a fire inspector.) It could have impacted our ability to maintain parks, to be able to hire the additional parks maintenance positions we approved this year and to build new parks (and green spaces) in the city.

Council is always looking at what is best for the whole community, not just for one part of the community. It’s not a matter of gentrification, but of looking at: what are the best recreation options that work for everybody not just some people?

One of the other concerns of building a new pool was that a new pool would have attracted more people to the area — and the neighborhood streets around Crown Park couldn’t necessarily support that type of parking. The parking isn’t great over there now, but with new people coming to use a brand new pool, it could have been a problem.

Post-Record: So the pool is going to be demolished very soon. But, first, the city has decided to throw a “going away party” for the pool. Why?

Turk: Crown Park is a historic property and the pool was part of why it’s historic. So, we had to either collect memorabilia (and save it for future generations to view) or create a kiosk at the pool site, saying “this is where the pool was,” so we figured it was more cost-effective to throw this party and collect memorabilia.

Post-Record: Can people take home a piece of the pool building to remember it?

Turk: Sometimes when a building comes down, there are pieces you can take — a brick or, with the example of the Portland Airport, a piece of carpet. But not here. There’s really nothing to take. It’s really just cinder block. But people can bring their photos and memories of the pool. We are going to save those.

Camas Parks and Recreation Department will throw a “Thanks for the Memories” party for the 65-year-old pool from 2 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 9, at Scout Hall in Crown Park.

Attendees are encouraged to bring historic or memorable photos of the pool building or of themselves or family members enjoying the pool’s amenities. City staff will be on hand to scan up to five photos from each attendee. The city will save the photos for archival reference at the Camas Public Library and the Two Rivers Heritage Museum.