Hough Pool to become preschool

ESD 112 awarded $1.1 million grant to aid low-income kids

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter

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A building that houses a defunct swimming pool at Hough Elementary will become a preschool serving 60 children from low-income homes.

The state’s Department of Early Learning this month awarded $1.1 million to Educational Service District 112, which manages the state’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program in Southwest Washington. In Clark County, the number of children served by the full-day preschool program will jump from 83 to 191.

“We are more than doubling the number of children served,” said Tim Merlino, ESD 112’s chief financial officer. “We’re really excited about it.”

ESD 112 is buying the pool property at 1801 Esther St. in Vancouver from the Hough Foundation. The organization’s founder, local businessman and philanthropist Paul Christensen, donated the Hough Pool to the city of Vancouver in 1997. The pool was always a money-loser, so the city returned the gift to the Hough Foundation in 2004.

Christensen’s company, Realvest, continued to support the pool’s budget until the company declared bankruptcy in 2010. Without Realvest’s help, the Hough Foundation couldn’t afford to keep the pool open.

After closing the pool, the foundation gathered community leaders and neighbors to brainstorm a new purpose for the building.

“It’s extremely exciting to have that building be used for just what we have in mind,” said Barbara Hammon, executive director of the Hough Foundation. “It’s time to have kids back in that building.”

The county pinned the value of the land, which covers two tax lots, at $185,000 this year. The county also dropped the building’s value to zero, given it’s not sellable on the wider market because part of the building sits on school district property, Assessor Peter Van Nortwick said.

The Hough Foundation Board of Directors signed an agreement at its June 17 meeting to sell the property to ESD 112 for $150,000.

“It’s definitely a partnership that we’re happy to make,” Hammon said of the sale. “We’re a small foundation. If we had to do a capital campaign on our own and figure this out, that would be years kids wouldn’t be getting services.”

Merlino estimates ESD 112 will pay close to $1 million to remove the pool and renovate the building. The goal is to have the new Hough center up and running by late this year.

ESD 112 will operate the program, with Vancouver Public Schools sharing Hough Elementary’s playground space and serving hot lunches.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the opportunity to partner with Vancouver Public Schools and the Hough Foundation to provide such critical services for young children who would not otherwise be able to attend preschool,” ESD 112 Superintendent Twyla Barnes said in a press release. “All three organizations are deeply committed to early learning and this partnership will greatly benefit our community.”

In addition to the new center at Hough, ESD 112 also will use the state grant to provide preschool services at the Lord’s Gym in Vancouver, Country Friends Child Care and Preschool program in Hockinson and Southwest Washington Child Care Consortium’s Image Elementary site.

The Legislature allocated about $13 million to add 1,350 preschool slots statewide for the 2014-15 school year as part of an ongoing effort to serve all eligible children by 2019.