Swimmers could be left high and dry

By Paul Danzer, Columbian Soccer, hockey and Community Sports Reporter



A local youth swim club and Evergreen Public Schools’ high school swimming teams might be looking for a place to train come November.

The owner of Cascade Athletic Clubs has asked both the Columbia River Swim Team and Evergreen Public Schools to help fund a new bubble to cover its outdoor pool and new locker room space for the youth and high school swimmers at his Fishers Landing facility.

If no agreement is reached, the CRST and the high school programs will not be using the Cascade Athletic Club pools after the high school girls swimming season ends in early November.

There is a meeting scheduled for next week between the CRST board of directors and Mark Eisenzimmer, the owner/operator of four Cascade Athletic Clubs in the metro area.

Steve Getsinger, athletic director for Evergreen Public Schools, said the district is focusing on the best move for the 2012-13 boys swimming season. He said he did not expect a decision to be reached this week.

Getsinger said the school district is studying “what is best for our boys swimming program, and also feasible with our tight district budgets.”

Eisenzimmer said he is optimistic an agreement can be reached to keep the Columbia River Swim Team at Columbia Athletic Club. He said he hopes the resolution is a “win-win” scenario that addresses concerns of both the CRST and other patrons. He said any solution needs to address concerns of club members who are frustrated by locker rooms that are crowded and boisterous during practice times for high school and youth teams.

Columbia River Swim Team head coach Darlene Hill said she was caught off guard last week when Cascade Athletic Club management informed her that CRST could not use the facility beyond Nov. 1 if it and/or the Evergreen School District did not agree to help fund capital improvements at the Cascade Athletic Club.

“It was very 12th-hour to me,” she said of the notice.

By early this week, Hill said she was somewhat encouraged that an agreement can be reached to keep her team at Cascade Athletic Club. She is hoping to reach an agreement that respects her team’s role in the success of the Vancouver facility.

“CRST wants to stay at Cascade. That’s our longtime home,” Hill said.

The Columbia River Swim Team was founded shortly after the athletic club opened in 2000 as Health Experience. CRST has remained in the building at 16096 SE 15th St., through several ownership changes.

Eisenzimmer took ownership of the athletic club at Fishers Landing on Nov. 1, 2010. He and his family operate three other Cascade Athletic Clubs and have been in the business for 35 years. Eisenzimmer said he had conversations with the CRST and the school district two years ago and again last year about the need to replace the bubble that makes the outdoor pool usable year-round, and about the need to improve the locker room options for the teams.

“Based on the usage now, we need to make these changes,” Eisenzimmer said.

He said that early estimates are that building a new locker room for the youth and high school swim teams would cost between $40,000 and $50,000. A new bubble over the outdoor pool would be an additional cost yet to be determined.

Eisenzimmer said he initially hoped that the cost would be split three ways among his business, CRST, and Evergreen School District. He said that instead of one-time payments for these capital improvements, he would raise the monthly rent for the CRST and the Evergreen School District to cover their portions of the cost of improvements

Columbia River Swim Team currently has a roster of 98 swimmers age 17-and-younger who swim in competitive age-group meets. The club trains for four hours each weekday and also has Saturday sessions for its most competitive swimmers. It pays $72,000 per year in rent, according to Hill.

News that the team might soon be homeless agitated parents of CRST swimmers. Some of the CRST athletes also swim for their high school teams. The boys high school swimming season runs November through February, making covering the outdoor pool necessary.

“It is a mystery to us why they are reacting this way,” said Renee Kaplan, who has two daughters on CRST.

Kaplan said she switched her membership from 24 Hour Fitness to Cascade only because it is where her daughters swim. She estimated 30 families have become members at Cascade because their children swim for CRST.

Eisenzimmer said the locker room issue is about the dozens of young swimmers who crowd locker rooms during practice times, not about behavior problems. He noted that the athletic club had 219 memberships when he took over the business two years ago, and now serves about 1,800 members.

“This isn’t a ‘My way or the highway’ situation at all,” Eisenzimmer said.

High school teams do not use pools at the Cascade Athletic Clubs in Gresham and east Portland. Eisenzimmer said that, unlike Evergreen School District, public schools in Portland and Gresham have their own swimming pools.

Hill said she empathizes with the challenges faced by the private athletic club.

“I would like to see a lot of support (for swimming) from other areas of the community,” Hill said. “I do understand it’s a big commitment for a private facility” to maintain swimming pools.

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