Camas parks board OKs lodge design

Facility will fill need for meeting space, leave some desires unmet

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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CAMAS — Camas Mayor Scott Higgins keeps an architectural drawing of the Lacamas Lake Lodge framed in his office. In part, it serves as a reminder that the long-awaited city project is finally moving forward.

This summer, the city plans to start turning the 5,000-square-foot Moose Lodge building on the shores of Lacamas Lake into a community center. The project is set to go out to bid in the spring and tentatively scheduled to debut in early fall.

The Camas Parks and Recreation Commission approved a final design for the new lodge Wednesday. It will include a new boat launch and expanded parking lot.

With its completion on the horizon, the city hopes to fill a 30-year need for a proper venue for large-scale events.

But even as architects put the finishing touches on the building's design, Higgins acknowledges that some people want more.

"For a lot of people, this doesn't fully answer what a community center could bring," Higgins said. "But for me, it does answer the demand that currently exists for meeting space."

Nearly 13 years ago, the city purchased five acres near Lacamas Lake that included the old Moose Lodge. The idea was to turn the old lodge into a meeting area, which would become part of a new community center.

The city's existing community center is housed in a 100-year-old former schoolhouse on Southeast 7th Avenue. It comes with a ballroom, conference room and reception area, but it's well past its glory days, Higgins said.

The new lodge won't please everyone in the community, officials say, especially those who favored a more ambitious project.

Some people may be wary to call it a community center because they have a different view of what a community center should be, said Eunice Abrahamsen, a parks commission member.

For example, the city has discussed building a community swimming pool.

"There are people who believe that because we're putting money into this (project), we're not moving forward with a community center," Abrahamsen said.

Higgins said there may be a way to add a swimming pool to the project in the future.

Funding for the $1.9 million renovation is already in place. About $350,000 comes from the Friends of the Camas Community Center. The remainder will be paid with state bonds, which are repaid by growth management fees.

At Camas' current rate of growth, the city expects to pay back the bonds in 15 years, Higgins said.

The city continues to look into acquiring state grant money to help pay for the project.

Schematic designs and permitting for the lodge will be discussed for another week or so, after which City Council is expected to approve the bids, with a goal of starting construction in June.

The project could be completed as early as September.

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com.