I recently became aware that Columbia Indoor Pool at 7701 N Chautauqua Blvd could be closed this year due to proposed budget cuts, and like so many in North Portland, I am genuinely dismayed that Portland Parks & Recreation would even consider closing this valuable North Portland resource that serves many diverse and underserved residents. For instance, households in neighborhoods surrounding Columbia Indoor Pool have significantly lower median income than those in neighborhoods surrounding Dishman and Grant Pools, and New Columbia—one of Oregon’s largest public housing complexes with 852 units and home to one of the city’s most diverse communities – is just blocks away. At nearby schools like Rosa Parks Elementary and César Chávez, students have some of the highest percentages of free meals by direct certification and minority student populations within the Portland Public School district.
From children to elders to swim teams, Columbia Indoor Pool provides year-round aquatics for people of all abilities, keeping neighbors physically active and connected and promoting positive health outcomes. Without Columbia Indoor Pool, residents of North Portland living on the peninsula would find the next closest indoor pool at the Matt Dishman Community Center via what could easily be an hour ride on public transit each way. Closing Columbia Indoor Pool would leave North Portland, one of the most diverse and underserved areas of Portland, without an indoor pool, while Matt Dishman, Mt. Scott, East Portland, and Southwest Community Center indoor pools, most of which serve less diverse and more affluent residents, would remain open, available, and accessible to communities who, on the whole, may have greater access to other recreation options.
While the Parks Bureau has stated its long-term goal is to add a pool on the Charles Jordan Community Center (CJCC) campus, that goal will not be realized for several years. Building a pool at CJCC may be appealing because it can be done with SDCs or other capital development funds; however, it will likely cost far in excess of the $2 million needed for investment in Columbia Indoor Pool, and, once built, will cost as much, if not more, in annual, ongoing maintenance than the bureau’s other indoor pools do.
Additionally, Columbia Indoor Pool has a stated capacity of 234 people, and it is likely that a newly constructed pool would hold far fewer people, meaning it likely won’t allow for various simultaneous uses (e.g., lap swim and water aerobics; lap swim and swim lessons, swim lessons and open swim, etc.) like Columbia Indoor Pool currently does. The sheer size of Columbia Indoor Pool and its distinct shallow and deep ends make it more versatile than other of Portland’s indoor pools, especially Dishman, which has a capacity of 180 and a shallow end that is suitable for play, but, because of its shape, nothing else. Why would a large pool with such broad utility be foregone? It is functional and adds great variety to the typical small lap pool/swim area and play pool with a lazy river seen at other pools around town.
Finally, if Columbia Indoor Pool is not, ultimately, saved, closing it in 2020 is not an equitable solution. The replacement of Columbia Indoor Pool is not remotely a gleam in an architect or pool designer’s eye, and closing it next year would strip the diverse and underserved communities of North Portland of their only real option for learning to swim, exercising, and playing year-round, and it would lead to worse health outcomes and lower quality of life for a whole community. Columbia Indoor Pool should not be closed in the first place, and at the absolute least, it must remain funded until a suitable replacement is not just thought about, but realized.