My View: Don't allow city to close Columbia Pool
Residents were out in force at a recent city budget hearing to oppose cuts to the Portland Parks & Recreation budget.
North Portland's Columbia Pool is one facility slated to close, despite operating year-round and serving some of Portland's most racially and economically diverse residents.
The closure is counter to the bureau's stated Racial Equity Plan goals, including providing "equitable access to City services to all residents." Cuts also will result in layoffs that impact women and the lowest-paid parks bureau employees disproportionately.
That's shameful enough, though it's just some of what's disturbing and wrong about this approach.
The bureau operates just five year-round, indoor pools citywide, and closing Columbia will have a huge negative impact. The bureau said it intends to replace Columbia with an indoor pool at the Charles Jordan Community Center, but no preliminary design or construction cost estimates exist.
Given the pace of public processes, if Columbia closes, the community will be without a fifth indoor pool for several years. Hundreds of thousands of Portlanders use the city's indoor pools annually; a 20% long-term reduction in facilities will result in overcrowding and service barriers.
Since it can probably be built using capital funds, a new pool is appealing, but is that the best use of $20 million or more? Once built, even a new pool requires ongoing upkeep, just like Columbia, with its backlog of maintenance needs, does.
Interestingly, a 2008 bureau aquatics paper rated Columbia in "very good" condition and stated a need for more pools, not fewer, including an outdoor pool at Charles Jordan and enhancements at Columbia. Now, both notions are being abandoned, despite public need and, arguably, because the city hasn't adequately cared for assets it already owns.
Inexplicably, the bureau plans to close a year-round pool while remaining committed to investing in outdoor pools, which operate, on average, 11 weeks a year. The Parks Replacement Bond devotes $6 million to outdoor pools.
So far, $2.2 million has been spent at Grant Pool, located in a predominantly white neighborhood with a median income of over $100,000 (40% more than the median income in neighborhoods surrounding Columbia).
The remaining $4 million is for Peninsula Pool. It's in North Portland, though its hours and programming are limited compared to other pools, and it seems best suited for birthday parties and sun bathing. Those limitations, coupled with the amenities at adjacent Peninsula Park — a spray pad and, despite the city's best efforts, the rose garden fountain that doubles as a summer wading pool — make a $4 million investment there disproportionate, especially considering that $2 million would fund maintenance needs at Columbia, which serves 60,000 people annually.
The parks bureau's budget proposal is inequitable, and walking away from Columbia Pool, a year-round, well-used, historic facility in a dense, racially and economically diverse neighborhood because it has failed to adequately maintain it is plain irresponsible.
Would this happen in Southwest Portland? Southeast? Public parks and recreation are essential to making all of Portland livable and desirable.
Please urge city leaders to oppose the proposed closure of the Columbia indoor pool.
Antoinette Gasbarre is a resident of North Portland.
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