Aging pools set to drain civic purse

Swim center repairs will cost association millions, expert says

Short-term solution

Facility will still need to be replaced within 10-15 years

January 28, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Association will have to pour about $3.75 million into its indoor swim center over the next decade and even with those improvements will probably need to replace the facility in 10 to 15 years, according to a consultant studying Columbia's pools.

It will cost $7.5 million to $8 million to replace the center, and if the association upgrades as it rebuilds, the price would jump to between $9 million and $12 million, consultant David Markey said.

Markey made the comments during an interview Friday as he completed a draft of a $25,000 pool study commissioned by the association. The Columbia Council hired him to analyze its aquatics program, one of the community's most popular and expensive recreational amenities.

Columbia Swim Center, in Wilde Lake Village Center, includes two full-sized pools, a wading pool and a four-story flume. It is part of an aquatics program with 27 pools - 23 outdoors and four indoors - drawing about 785,000 swimmers a year.

Markey said the millions needed to keep the center running for the next 10 years won't keep it going indefinitely.

"A lot has to do with just the age of the components," he said. "It's already 30 years old now."

At a meeting Thursday, several council members expressed concern about investing in the old center if it needs to be replaced.

The council had not received copies of Markey's report, but the consultant had shared his findings with Rob Goldman, the association's vice president for sport and fitness. Goldman briefed the council on Markey's report at the meeting.

Councilman Miles Coffman of Hickory Ridge wondered whether the center might be compared to an old car "when it starts nickel-and-diming you."

"I think everybody should be concerned that we're looking at a $3.7 million investment in a 10-year period in a facility that we might need to tear down at the end of the 10th year," said Councilwoman Cecilia Januszkiewicz of Long Reach.

Markey said he understands that reaction but said it probably makes economic sense to invest in the old center and squeeze a few more years out of it.

"It's a legitimate question - do you spend millions over the next 10 years or do you punt and do it now?" he said. "It appears, though, the best answer is, yes, keep it repaired, keep it up to date. ... But start thinking and planning for the longer term when, no, it won't be wise to put more money in.

"If they are looking down the barrel at a $10 [million] to $12 million investment, then do they need to panic and worry about it now? No. But they certainly shouldn't keep it too far back on the agenda. ... Ten to 15 years sounds like a long time, but it takes two to three years to plan and build."

Council Chairman Lanny Morrison of Harper's Choice said he would like to find a partner, perhaps Howard County, to help pay for a new swim center.

When and if the new center is built, the association probably will have to find someplace else to do it because the present site is confined, Markey said. Codes would require more bathrooms, parking and other features that demand more space, he said.

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