Following protests from about 75 residents, Columbia Council members say they will reconsider a cost-cutting plan to close the Columbia Association Swim Center in Wilde Lake for the summer.
Many of the swim center devotees who attended Thursday night's council meeting use the in-door center for physical therapy. They said outdoor pools are too cold and too crowded.
"This is a serious health matter for many of the participants in Deep Water [Fitness]," said Hickory Ridge village resident James Wu, who participates in the aquatic jogging program two or three times a week to keep a bad knee from deteriorating.
Outdoor pools offered as a substitute are inaccessible at least a third of the time because of inclement weather, he said.
Council members were impressed by the arguments.
"Many of us are ready to reconsider our decision on the Swim Center," council member Fran Wishnick of Oakland Mills village told the impromptu public hearing.
She said the council's decision came after pressure from other residents to lower Columbia property owners' annual charge of 75 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The council cut about $2 million from the association's capital and operating budget to lower the charge by 2 cents.
"Every budget cut we tried to make was highly distasteful," she said.
Some residents testified that swimming was recommended by their doctors for arthritis, heart problems and complicated pregnancies, and that only the swim center could satisfy their needs.
Kimberly Piccolo of Hickory Ridge village held up her 7-month-old daughter Julia and told the council that she had barely survived her daughter's delivery. Staying fit by swimming during her pregnancy may have saved her life, she testified.
"It would have been bad had this [closing] happened to us last year. I just don't want it to happen to someone next year," Piccolo said.
About a quarter of the 90 residents who showed up for the meeting were there to protest plans for a miniature golf and batting cage facility, called the Family Fun Center. The facility would be built next to the Hickory Ridge village center, which is now under construction. The council budgeted $60,000 for the facility.
The Hickory Ridge village board will hear comments on the fun center at its meeting at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in the Hawthorn Neigh-borhood Center. Council member Michael Deets noted that the council had a surplus of more than $40,000 from its budget-cutting. That money, Deets said, could easily keep the swim center open.
Council vice-chairwoman Evelyn Richardson said she worried that restoring the swim Center money would reopen the entire budget process, but Deets said it appeared that the swim Center was the only existing service cut by the Council.
Council members said they would discuss the swim center issue with their respective village association boards and consider the matter in two weeks after the association's board of directors meeting March 26.