YMCA expanding its reach in Clark County

Projects for new sites in county underway, and east county could soon join them

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer

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Benno Dobbe and the Woodland Community Swimming Pool Committee have worked for years on bringing a pool to the city.

After teaming with the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette and securing a location at the former Lakeside Motel property, the committee is gearing up for fundraising and a bond vote in November to pay for the building. If everything goes as planned, the motel will be demolished early in 2018, with construction of the facility scheduled to begin in 2019, said Dobbe, president of the committee.

By the time construction starts, Clark County could have a few neighboring YMCA projects underway, as well. Groups in Ridgefield and Battle Ground are already in the process of bringing in a YMCA, and the idea of looking into options in east county has been floated by city officials in Camas and Washougal.

Would the YMCA operate all those locations, and should each group move through the process and build facilities?

According to Eddie White, executive director of the Clark County Family YMCA, 11324 N.E. 51st Circle, Vancouver, the county’s only full YMCA, more facilities would improve services offered to Clark County and nearby residents.

“We show up where communities want us,” White said. “The facilities would complement each other, not compete. The idea is to provide for the community.”

White said that the facilities wouldn’t all be the same, and each one could offer different services, depending on what the residents of those communities wanted. A YMCA membership allows for entrance into any YMCA, so, if only one of the projects ends up with a lap pool, members to the other facilities could still use it.

“We might lose some folks (coming to the Vancouver location), but overall, we’ll be able to serve more people,” White said. “Some people don’t want to do that drive down here from further north. As the county becomes more populated, there’s more traffic, and not everyone wants to spend more time in the car just to come here.”

The Vancouver location underwent an $8 million renovation and expansion program in 2014, bringing the 45,000-square-foot building up to 63,000 square feet, and has since increased membership, White said. Between membership and youth enrichment programs, such as camps and recreational sports leagues, Clark County YMCA programs serve about 20,000 people, he added. The Vancouver facility has around 7,000 members, according to White.

The 2014 work allowed the Vancouver facility to add a lap pool, which local school swim teams use for practice, an indoor walking/running track and a conference room and office space.

“People think of the Y as a place for swim lessons and basketball, but we’re more than that,” White said. “Those are some of our hooks.”

Here’s a look at how the rest of the county YMCA projects are shaping up:

Woodland

The project furthest along is the Woodland YMCA. Last year, the committee raised a little more than $1.5 million for the $16 million project. Dobbe said the committee is getting ready for a big fundraising push. They’re also turning to the public for help funding nearly half of the project; the Woodland Swimming Pool and Recreation District will put a bond up for vote in the Nov. 7 general election.

The district is projecting the 20-year bond for a little less than $8 million, which would cost each property owner approximately 35 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value. Should the bond pass, it will cover 49 percent of the project, with the rest coming from donations, grants and tax credits.

Dobbe said the community seems in favor of the bond so far, and he’s optimistic about the vote.

“The Woodland community has been waiting for this project for many, many years,” he said. “I always believed in this project and thought we could make it happen. We have every piece of the puzzle in place with the YMCA, the district to put up a bond and the community.”

He said the project really started to build momentum when the committee teamed up with the YMCA, which Dobbe called a “blessing.”

“They have been instrumental in determining what should be in there to make it a successful project for the future,” he said.

The 40,000 square foot facility is expected to have a pool, fitness center, indoor walking/running track, exercise studios, multipurpose classrooms, child care, and locker rooms.

Ridgefield

Ridgefield worked with the YMCA in 2016 to conduct a market study about building a facility, and city officials are looking at finalizing a location so they can move forward with the process. The city is looking for sites near the Interstate 5 junction that the city could leverage or partner with Clark College, which is planning on opening a campus at Boschma Farms in the city, and with health care related facilities, such as The Vancouver Clinic and PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.

In the survey, which was sent to about 600 families in Ridgefield, two locations are identified: right off I-5 at Exit 14 and just south of Ridgefield High School at the intersection of Northwest Hillhurst Road and Northwest Carty Road. According to the survey, 56 percent of people who responded said their first choice was south of the high school.

The city is working with the YMCA on a location and facility design, said Ridgefield City Manager Steve Stuart, so there is no final building cost or finance plan at the moment for the project.

According to the survey, the initial phase for the facility could include a state-of-the art gym, exercise studios where free classes could be offered. It could offer personalized health and fitness classes, free babysitting while parents use the facility, activities for adults and children and community meeting rooms. Backers also gauged interest in an indoor warm-water shallow pool for families, swim lessons and water aerobics, an indoor six-lane lap pool and a gym with courts for basketball, volleyball and other sports.

In an email, Stuart wrote that there is enough market demand in the city to support a full YMCA.

“Woodland and Battle Ground working toward a YMCA does nothing but help our efforts, as we look at complementary facilities and programs that would create a bigger benefit for all the YMCA members in all three cities,” he wrote.

Battle Ground

In July, the Southwest Washington Contractors Association’s Foundation awarded a $2,000 grant to the YMCA to could conduct a market study on bringing a facility to Battle Ground. The efforts there have been led by the Battle Ground YMCA Task Force, which started four-plus years ago.

With the grant, the group raised enough to get a market study done, according to Jodine Dixon, task force leader.

She said the task force started up in response to a string of teen suicides.

“One of the things that became evident is we have nowhere for teens to go interact with people from other generations in a fun, safe way,” she said.

Like the groups in Woodland and Ridgefield, the YMCA model stuck out to task force members because the organization has plenty of experience operating community centers and could provide assistance throughout the process.

“The YMCA has a long-proven track record of building family-friendly facilities,” she said. “There’s a real benefit of having experts run it.”

With the $2,000 grant, the task force raised about $13,000. The YMCA chipped in for the rest of the $25,000 market study, Dixon said. She added that she thinks the study will show there is a need in the area, and the usage for the facility will probably match the boundary for Battle Ground Public Schools.

Once the study is done, the task force hopes to hold a public forum with residents and local elected officials to discuss plans further.

She said the group is looking at two or three sites at the moment: a couple of locations near the intersection of state Highway 503 and Main Street and the old Lewisville Middle School site.

Once that’s in order, Dixon said the group hopes to raise half of the funds through grants and donations and will look to form a parks district to put a bond up for vote for the other half of the money. She knows that can be a big ask for Battle Ground residents, who voted down the school district’s proposed $80 million bond last year.

“I’m not underestimating the challenge,” Dixon said. “It’s going to be difficult. I think in the end, people will recognize the need and will come together.”

East county

John Spencer, commissioner with the Port of Camas-Washougal, said Camas and Washougal aren’t even at the early stages of a discussion yet. He’s part of a group of officials from both cities who meet periodically to discuss east county issues.

“In that group, we’ve talked about a general desire for a community center for east county, but that’s all that’s happened,” Spencer said. “Nobody has made any commitments. As far as a YMCA goes, it was brought up as an option for making such an institution work.”