Plans for Hough Pool trouble waters

Swimmers oppose replacement with an education center

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Nearly 18 months after the last drop of water was drained from the Hough Pool, its leaders have a new vision for its future.

Hough Swimming Pool

The Hough Foundation, which owns the pool, plans to convert the building into a multipurpose center with a cutting-edge early childhood education center, after-school programs and community space, its executive director said Friday.

Since financial troubles closed the pool in February 2010, the foundation’s board of directors has worked with community groups to figure out what could be done with space.

“We looked at what’s the highest and best use for the building if it were not to continue as a pool,” said Executive Director Kate Sacamano. “There’s a lot of potential to turn it into an innovative early childhood education program.”

The foundation has been working with University of Portland advisers on starting a neuroeducation program, an interdisciplinary field that combines neuroscience, psychology and education to create improved teaching methods.

The center would be a magnet for Hough Elementary, she said.

Groups like the YMCA or the Boys and Girls Club could possibly run after-school programs following the preschool day; in the evening hours, the center could host community classes such as yoga or language.

“We could serve a lot more children over the long haul and it will not be as financially challenging for the foundation,” Sacamano said.

But not everyone is happy with the board’s decision. Local lawyer Michael Langsdorf, CPA David Austin and developer Gabe Duus are trying to convince the board to reopen the pool. There’s a shortage of pools in the city since Hough Pool closed, said Langsdorf, who swims with the Vancouver Tornadoes Swim Team, which practiced at Hough.

Langsdorf and others are collecting signatures to bring to the board’s Tuesday meeting in hopes of changing minds. They’ve got more than 60 parents involved and 400 signatures already, he said.

The swim club has worked out a way to drop the pool’s costs from $13,500 a month to somewhere in the $3,000 to $4,000 range, he said. The Tornadoes will cover those costs, and also make the needed repairs to get it up and running again. The team would use the facility for practice, but also make it available to Hough Elementary students and possibly others.

Always lost money

The pool has long been a financial albatross. It was a gift to the city of Vancouver from local businessman and philanthropist Paul Christensen. But it was always a money-loser, and the city returned the gift to the Hough Foundation in 2004. Christensen’s company, Realvest, continued to support the pool’s budget — until Realvest declared bankruptcy in January 2010. Without Realvest’s help, the Hough Foundation couldn’t afford to keep the pool open.

A boiler was inspected by the state in early 2010 and found in need of a $2,000 repair. And a circulation pump broke down, requiring another $2,000.

It would probably be much more to bring the pool up to speed after 18 months out of commission, Sacamano said.

“The repairs that are needed for the pool just for today are so extensive that I don’t see in the next decade to be able to reopen that pool,” she said.

She said that the Tornadoes approached the foundation in February 2010 about taking over the costs. But it wasn’t until this September — far after the board had already decided on a new direction — that Langsdorf brought his plans forward, “out of the clear blue,” Sacamano said. The board has yet to receive a formal proposal.

“It is too late. Absolutely,” she said. “It runs completely counter to our plans.”

Langsdorf said he fails to see why the foundation’s board won’t consider the Tornadoes’ offer, especially when the facility was intended to be used for aquatics. He also asked why the foundation would pave over a $1.2 million asset.

Sacamano said Vancouver’s LSW Architects are drafting design concepts, including some that simply cover the pool, should the foundation decide someday to reopen it. Other plans do fill the pool.

The foundation will unveil designs Nov. 5 at its Five Restaurants, One Reservation fundraiser at the Hilton Vancouver. Cost estimates for the conversion aren’t available yet, but Sacamano said that the foundation will start a capital drive to complete the work.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542, http://facebook.com/reporterdamewood, http://twitter.com/col_cityhall or andrea.damewood@columbian.com.