Dorsey Hall Pool

A 2011 image from Dorsey Hall Pool in Columbia. The Columbia Association is exploring the possibility of converting the pool into a heated outdoor pool open year-round. (Patuxent Publishing / July 23, 2011)

The Columbia Association is exploring converting Dorsey Hall Pool into an heated pool open year-round as an alternative to enclosing one of CA's 23 pools, according to CA Chief Operating Officer Rob Goldman.

Goldman cited cost savings as a main benefit of creating a heated outdoor pool as opposed to an enclosure, which was recommended by aquatics consultants hired by CA.

"This association is faced with a number of expensive capital projects over the next five to 10 years. This seemed like a potential way for CA to save $4 million and still create the excess swimming in a way that will be very well received by the community," Goldman said.

The enclosure possibilities presented by consultants from Williams Architects Aquatics ranged between $4 million and $7 million in capital expenses, while the alternative heating option would only cost $452,000.


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Goldman said CA selected Dorsey Hall Pool, which is in Ellicott City, because of its location, access to natural gas and the planned renovations to the Dorsey meeting room and pool house.

Goldman, who presented the concept at Thursday's meeting of the CA Board, said CA is still in the early stages of exploring the concept.

"It's an idea. We are introducing this concept and sharing it with you," Goldman said.

The idea spawned from a February site visit to fitness clubs in Denver, Colo., where Goldman, CA's Director of Construction Dennis Mattey and CA's Director of Sports and Fitness Bob Bellamy stumbled upon two outdoor heated pools.

"The managers of those facilities reported keeping the outdoor pools heated and open year-round was very popular with members and cost the clubs far less than enclosing pools for year-round use," Goldman wrote in a memo to the board.

In January, Williams Aquatics reported an "immediate need" for more indoor pool space within Columbia. Of CA's 23 outdoor pools, the consultants recommended two as feasible options for enclosure; Dasher Green in Owen Brown and Locust Park in Long Reach.

At Dasher Green, the consultants recommended building a new indoor pool facility adjacent to the current L-shaped outdoor pool. At Locust Park, the consultants recommended rebuilding an indoor pool on the site of the current outdoor pool.

Also on the table is the possibility of a new state-of-the-art facility, although it seems to be the least likely of the three options.

Turn up the heat

The idea was received with skepticism from some board members and the three community members who spoke at the meeting.

"To do this is to ignore all the good work of the (aquatics) task force and all the good work of that consultant you hired to help site where that pool should be," said Wilde Lake resident Bill Santos, who is also a member of the Howard County Planning Board.

Stephanie Costello, president of the parent board for Columbia Clippers swim team, said the concept came as a shock to the competitive swimmers, who are desperate for more indoor pool space.

"No one ever asked the swim team what we felt. This came completely out of the blue," Costello said. "We had our hopes pinned on this other idea of re-purposing outdoor pool."

Board member Cynthia Coyle, from Harper's Choice, said the weather differences between Columbia and Denver, specifically the humidity, could complicate having an outdoor heated pool.

"You can't compare the Colorado temperatures to our temperatures. It is freezing here when it is cold here," Coyle said. "Do I think it's completely a bad idea to have a heated outdoor pool? No I do not. But I think it's completely wrong to eliminate the idea of an indoor closed pool."

Energy impact

Goldman said it is more energy-efficient to heat an outdoor pool than it is to operate an indoor facility.

"The actual cost of energy for a closed building is a little bit greater than the cost of energy in an outdoor pool," Goldman said.

According to calculations put together by CA's Energy Manager Jeremy Scharfenberg, the estimated cost of heating Dorsey Hall pool would cost $46,019, while it would cost approximately $54,400 in utilities for an indoor facility.

Scharfenberg's estimate for the outdoor pool represents energy usage if the pool is operated from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily for 12 months. To heat the outdoor pool continuously from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily would cost $75,847, according to Scharfenberg.

Long Reach resident and former CA Board representative Ed Coleman was skeptical of the energy estimates.

"If it costs the same to heat an outdoor pool than it does to heat a building, we are designing buildings wrong," Coleman said.

"I think you need to compare apples to apples, and I'm not sure some of these numbers do."