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Oregon allocates $15M in funding for new North Portland aquatic center

The funding will help build a new aquatic center after the Columbia Pool closed indefinitely in August.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon legislators voted to approve $15 million in lottery bond funding to help fund and build a new aquatic center in North Portland. The area is the only major area of the city without access to a city pool within a three-mile radius.

The Columbia Pool in North Portland shut down indefinitely in August after inspectors found major issues with the century-old building.

"It's been a slow-moving tragedy," said Mary-Margaret Wheeler-Weber, chair of the Portsmouth Neighborhood Association. "It was really upsetting and a lot of us came together. We advocated, we did get short-term funds. There's been a lot of setbacks and it's really been hard. It's been hard for the community."

The issues with the old building started years ago. Since 2008, Portland Parks and Recreation has been performing quarterly inspections of the building. Then a budget shortfall in 2019 caused the building to close for good, but it again got new life.

In 2020, voters passed a parks levy to pay operating costs for five years and in 2021, city commissioner Carmen Rubio allocated millions of dollars and directed the bureau to start planning a new aquatic center in North Portland. 

RELATED: 'This is a blow': Ill-fated Columbia Pool not reopening with other Portland pools this week

Then in August, the site closed indefinitely because of major issues with the building.

"I asked for $33 million and felt very fortunate to get $15 [million]," said democratic state Representative Travis Nelson, whose district covers north and Northeast Portland. 

Rep. Nelson proposed the funding during the 2022 short session under Senate Bill 5702. The bill passed both the House and Senate and is awaiting signature from Governor Kate Brown.

"Columbia Pool has been here for one-hundred years. It's been an anchor in the community. It's been a place where kids have come to swim in the summer.  A place where kids have stayed out of trouble. A place where kids have gotten swimming lessons and it's now gone. It's closed indefinitely and we need this new aquatic center for our seniors. For those in our community, the kids so that kids can get swimming lessons," said Rep. Nelson.

The city of Portland has three potential sites in mind, but those are not finalized as the community will have input on any additional sites included.

Those sites are the Charles Jordan Community Center, Columbia Park, and the Columbia Park Annex. The city is in the first phase of Portland Parks and Recreation's North Portland Aquatic Center project. 

A Parks and Recreation spokesperson told KGW in an email that the city is in the process of putting together a plan that will involve community input. Then a community advisory committee, a technical advisory committee and a project design team. All of them will need to be in place before a site is picked. 

"This is the most diverse district west of 82nd avenue and we know that Black and brown kids are much more likely to die from drowning than white children are, so it's very, very important that we have a place for kids to go and teach them how to swim." said Representative Nelson.

In addition to the $15 million, the city of Portland will allocate at least $11.7 million to the $50 million project, leaving around $23.3 million left to fund.

"There is a gap, both a gap in funding and a gap in years." said Wheeler-Weber, the Portsmouth Neighborhood Association chair.

Construction on the new site, once selected, won't begin until at least January 2027 according to a fact-sheet provided by the city.

KGW asked Portland Parks and Recreation about funding for the new site and a Parks spokesperson said in an e-mail that, "Commissioner Rubio and PP&R will work with community partners to explore options to fill the remaining $23.3 million needed to completely fund the project."

RELATED: 'It's really a struggle': Portland Parks & Recreation suspends swim lessons due to staffing shortage

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