Washougal hopes to expand uses at City facilities

Resident says City’s community center should include youth activities

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The city of Washougal is exploring ways to expand public use at two of its city-owned facilities.

Washougal City Manager David Scott said the City’s community center, located at 1681 “C” St., directly west of Washougal City Hall, can host a wider array of activities now that the restrictions that came with a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) are no longer in place.

Scott added that the City’s existing agreements with the Fort Vancouver Library District, the Washougal Senior Association, Meals on Wheels, Refuel Washougal and the Association on Aging “continue to be high priority” for Washougal City Council members.

“One of your goals for me, and one of your goals for last year, was to explore enhanced recreation opportunities as well as enhanced facilities use,” Scott told the Council last month. “(We) explored the opportunities for enhancing the use of facilities and making the facilities available as much as we can for community use.”

“There are constraints on the time and use of the facility,” Scott said. “But not notwithstanding that, there are opportunities for facility use by the community. We just have to coordinate the times with the agreement holders, of course. There’s some potential for some possible co-use. But for us to be very successful in implementing a robust facility use program, additional staff resources are needed.”

Washougal resident Myra Wicks told The Post-Record that she approached the City with a plan to launch an activities program for teenagers at the community center, but was rebuffed.

“I have a schedule for the community center, and it shows that more than 40 hours a week are available to the community. Why aren’t we utilizing it for the youth?” she said. “Even if (the City) didn’t want to open it on a regular basis, they could open it a couple of days a week, or a few hours each day. There are multiple days a week that are open for the time when kids get out of school until (they would) need to close the doors. There’s plenty of time, plenty of opportunities.”

Wicks said that she has yet to receive an explanation from the City about why it hasn’t made the community center available to teens.

“(A community center is) literally for the community. It is not something that’s supposed to be closed to the community,” she said. “I’ve asked for the community center to be open, and I would also like to know why it has been shut down. I have offered the volunteers. I have offered donations. I have planned for everything to be taken care of. The only thing the City would be responsible for would be to open the doors and pay for the lights and the water. This (plan) could have been implemented. I mean, I made this so simple.”

Scott told The Post-Record that the City no longer has any restrictions on uses and activities at the community center.

“However, we do have existing agreements with several partners for use of the facility … and these agreements encumber the use of the community center during certain times. Also, some of the equipment in the kitchen is owned by a reserved for exclusive use of Meals on Wheels people.

“(But) we are excited about the opportunities for enhanced utilization and programming at the community center for the community and the pending revitalization project at our civic campus. We will be working on these issues over the next several months.”

The City has fewer options for its East County Family Resource Center (ECFRC), located across the street from City Hall at 1702 “C” Street, due to CDBG funding restrictions, which require the facility to host services that cater to only low-income residents, seniors, and people experiencing disabilities through at least the end of 2028.

Scott said that the City’s existing agreement with Akin, formerly known as the Children’s Home Society, “continues to be a high priority for the Council.”

“However, that facility is under-utilized,” he added. “There are some challenges, though, with respect to that. There’s opportunities for enhanced utilization of the space, but it has to be for those three CDBG eligible constituencies.”

City staff received a preliminary estimate of $1.5 million from an architect to “make upgrades to the building in order to make it available for enhanced use on all three levels,” Scott said.

“(We wanted to know) what it would take to make adjustments to the basement and to the upstairs, particularly. Those are the areas that are the most underutilized,” he added. “There are some code issues with respect to occupant load limitations, so the spaces can’t really be leveraged very well because they don’t have adequate exits. The building should not be occupied by more than 10 people because there are not two conforming exits.”

City council woman Michelle Wagner said that she would be hesitant to commit $1.5 million to the ECFCR building considering the fact that the improvements wouldn’t be able to be utilized for another several years.

“That building is a money pit,” she said. “It is literally a money pit.”

“This is something that we’ve been proud of as a community, that we’re the only small city that I’m aware of in this county that hosts and provides services at a city facility that is fully paid for by the city,” Scott replied. “The last time we had a debrief on this with the Council, the Council’s direction to me was, ‘That’s still a high priority for us, and that’s what we want to do, but please explore opportunities, see what other things that we could do.’”

Scott said that the City is exploring options to expand its recreational programming.

“The lack of a dedicated staff makes it difficult for us to initiate anything robust that we would be operating. We would need some additions,” Scott said. “Partnering has really been our approach over the years. We don’t really operate our own recreation program; we go out and find instructors or session providers and partner with them, and we believe this really is the best approach. Some of our partners, particularly in the youth sports offerings, have cut back recently due to reduced participation, but there’s current exploration about hoping to restore some of those offerings.”

Scott said the City is in the process of hiring a community engagement program coordinator, which in addition to their responsibilities to build the City’s new Citizens’ Academy and expand the City’s volunteer program and facility use programs will “provide some support to recreation,” according to Scott.

“To do recreation, we need some help,” he said. “We’re not getting a full recreation position, but we’re getting some help. We’re going to continue to engage with our partners regarding enhanced recreation offerings. The Outpost, down on ‘E’ Street, (recently opened a) teen center. Here’s a partner in the community that’s going to be providing some kind of a service. How do we support them?”

Scott said that the City’s planned Town Center Revitalization Project will provide the downtown core with flexibility and adaptability, enhance opportunities for indoor and outdoor community use, and improve pedestrian connectivity to the ECFRC.

“Any really enhanced programmatic use of the building across the street is going to rely upon street parking or parking on the campus here,” he said.