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Columbia Association president says it must evolve

By Luke Lavoie, llavoie@tribune.com

3:21 PM EDT, August 15, 2012

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As Columbia's infrastructure deteriorates and the community's population demographics change, the Columbia Association board will have to move away from the time-tested practices of the past in favor of a more innovative business model.

That's what CA President Phil Nelson told the board last week in a presentation entitled "CA 2022."

Nelson stressed that as the face of Columbia changes, so must the organization that services it.

"The demographic makeup of this community is going to change significantly," Nelson said on Aug. 9. "We have to look at a different business model, and that's where this group (the board) plays an extremely significant role in staying viable in the future."

The 15-minute presentation relied heavily on projections developed from 2010 census data.

Nelson said the data indicates that Columbia, along with Howard County, the state of Maryland and the entire United States, is aging more rapidly than ever.

According to the presentation, the percentage of people over 65 in Columbia has doubled over the last two decades, rising from 4.7 percent in 1990 to 10.8 percent in 2010. Projections indicate the population of residents 65 and over will continue to increase at a similar rate over the next 30 years.

Meanwhile, the number of residents under the age of 19 is expected to flat line during the same time period. Nelson believes this projection has to do with the decreasing percentage of family households, which has fallen nearly eight percent over the last 20 years.

Nelson said the trend could cause CA to cut back on children's programming in favor of programming for seniors.

"Do we offer all of the kid space? Do we offer all of the swimming pools? Or do we change to say, 'What do these age groups want to see? What would they like us to offer?' " Nelson said.

Town Center representative Suzanne Waller said CA shouldn't overreact to the projections.

"I have a sense that we shouldn't try and reinvent the wheel," Waller said. "Changes in population happen over all time. ... Populations are always aging."

Changing demographics

Nelson also talked about the community's changing demographic makeup.

Data indicates the percentage of nonwhite residents in both the county and the country is set to increase drastically over the next 30 years.

According to the census, the number of nonwhites in Howard County has risen from 9 percent of the population in 1970 to 40 percent in 2010. The census bureau estimates that nonwhites will make up 65 percent of the county's population by 2040, Nelson said.

The Hispanic population is expected to see the most growth. According to the data, of the 72 million Americans projected to be added to the population by 2035, 32 million will be Hispanic.

Hickory Ridge representative Gregg Schwind said the population growth of any cultural group shouldn't change Columbia's core values.

"So many of our core products aren't dependent on where you come from," Schwind said.

Nelson said differences in language and culture will be the biggest hurdles the board faces as Columbia adapts to a more diverse community.

"We are going to have to become more adept at understanding what certain things mean to certain cultures," Nelson said. "It's not so much that we are going to change everything we do. ... It's still melding cultures into one user face."

Money for older facilities

While Columbia's population has aged, so has its infrastructure.

Nelson said by trimming expenditures, CA has been able to increase its capital improvements budget without incurring large sums of long-term debt. Over the last three years CA has more than doubled its capital improvements budget from $4 million to $10 million per year.

Nelson only anticipates the capital improvements budget increasing as CA facilities get older.

"Some of our bigger facilities are getting to be 35 to 40 years old," he said.

Nelson said over the next 15 years CA plans to invest $23 million in outdoor pool upgrades, $35 million in outdoor space projects and more than $15 million in fitness center upgrades. In total, Nelson estimates more than $105 million will be allocated over the next 15 years to maintaining CA's existing facilities.

That number does not include projects such as the $5 million for a new clubhouse at Hobbit's Glen Golf Club, the proposed enhancement of Symphony Woods Park, and the possible purchase of a new headquarter's building.

While some of the changes seem like a long way away, Nelson stressed that the time to act is now.

"These changes aren't going to happen overnight. We are talking 20 to 30 years, but I'd like to start turning the Titanic before we do hit the iceberg," Nelson said. "I want to make sure we are prepared."