Thursday, August 6, 2020
Aug. 6, 2020

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Camas eyes bond for building a center

Mayor, some councilors say timing seems right

By , Columbian Staff Writer
Published:

Camas residents have talked for decades about wanting a community center. At a Monday workshop, city councilors discussed putting the fate of funding a center in the hands of those residents.

Councilors directed staff on Monday to prepare information about possibly running a general obligation bond on the ballot in November to fund construction of a community center with a pool. A few councilors said at the workshop that the city has momentum to turn to voters right now, because the idea has been heavily discussed in recent months — the historic Crown Park pool was demolished in March. It closed after the summer of 2017, and residents have since tried to save the pool or find other water-related activities.

“If we can’t get a community center and a pool through at this point, I don’t know when we’d be able to do it,” Mayor Shannon Turk said at the workshop. “I’ve gotten that sense from a few council members.”

City Administrator Pete Capell said staff will study city-owned property off of Lake Road across the street from the entrance to Heritage Park for the possible location for the center. The 6 1/2 -acre site was listed as the favorite among three sites included on a feasibility study the city commissioned in 2001.

Capell said the project would likely be broken down into four phases. The first phase would include a recreational pool, locker rooms, an administrative space, and multi-purpose rooms that could be used for group classes and exercise. The estimated price tag on that phase would be about $30 million, which is probably what the general obligation bond would ask for, he said.

The second phase would add a two-court gymnasium, the third phase would include community rooms, classrooms and support spaces, and the final phase would add a competitive pool. The council has until Aug. 6 to vote to get the bond on the November ballot.

Joint project on hold?

The move by Camas councilors changes the yearlong discussion about the community center. The cities of Camas and Washougal, both school districts and the Port of Camas-Washougal had formed a joint task force to look into building a community center together.

Camas Councilwoman Deanna Rusch, who’s on the task force, said they’ve had four meetings, but it feels like “people are trying to sell each other on different locations.”

Turk, who also attended the meetings, said Camas councilors need to determine if the meetings are moving them closer to a project or not.

The big hold up, Camas councilors said at Monday’s workshop, is the location. Neither city wanted to ask residents to pay toward a community center too far into the other city’s limits.

“We’re at a stalemate,” Camas Councilwoman Melissa Smith said. “It’s the location.”

Washougal Mayor Molly Coston said she understood the reasons why Camas councilors would want to move on from the joint project and push to get a replacement pool now that the Crown Park pool isn’t coming back. She said she thinks the proposed Lake Road location is too far into Camas for Washougal residents to also support a bond effort.

“We’ll certainly be open to any possibility of collaboration with Camas as they move forward but probably not in the mechanism in funding the project,” Coston said. “I don’t think our voters would approve that.”

Capell also brought up the idea of a partnership between the cities, should Camas pass a bond to open the community center. He said he could see an agreement where Washougal residents would end up paying in-city costs for the center, or get a discount on out-of-city costs to use the facilities.

“We fully anticipate that this is going to be the closest pool and community center for Washougal residents,” Capell said. “To make it viable, we’re really counting on residents from both cities to participate.”

Coston said Washougal officials are still interested in bringing some sort of community space to their city, but the council will have to sit down and discuss how best to do that if Camas follows through on the Lake Road option.

Port of Camas-Washougal Commissioner John Spencer said he hopes the joint commission continues to meet, at least to discuss possible collaborations on the Camas center in the future.

“I’m excited to hear that the council is moving forward,” he said. “As much as I want the two communities to work together, the biggest thing is this is an asset east county needs, and I’m glad somebody is moving forward to make it happen.”

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