A majority of Columbia Association board members are in favor of retaining all 23 outdoor pools as well as possibly transforming one of them into a year-round indoor pool.
After a 4 1/2-hour retreat March 31, board members said they have agreed on a strategy to guide them while they debate and decide the specifics of CA's aquatics master plan.
Seven of the nine members at the retreat want to keep the 23 outdoor pools, and six would consider transforming a seasonal outdoor pool into a year-round indoor pool.
Those preferences came out in nonbinding votes, but they will nevertheless be kept in mind as the board's planning and strategy committee meets April 12 to make a recommendation to the full board.
The preferences, should they be formally approved, would then act as guidelines as CA refines its vision for the pools' future.
Columbia Association has been working for the past year on a plan intended to ensure that its outdoor pools meet the future needs of residents and pool users while considering the area's changing demographics.
"What can we do to make our pool system more attractive to people who use it now, and at the same time make some changes that would attract a broader base of Columbia residents to the pools?" said Rob Goldman, CA's chief operating officer.
That process culminated in a proposal that not only recommended fixes and upgrades at a number of pools and gyms, but also suggested a few major changes — enclosing one outdoor pool and turning it into an indoor facility, potentially turning an outdoor pool into a pool-less water playground or water park, and replacing the aging SplashDown water slides with a newer, more popular feature.
Those three proposals drew protests from some residents and village community associations.
The CA board gathered at its retreat last week at Linden Hall in Dorsey's Search with all of this in mind.
"This is a very strong issue for a lot of residents," said board member Suzanne Waller of Town Center. "If the economics or demographics of this suggest change, we have to be very good about communicating that to residents. If we don't, it'll be a mess. If we do, we have a good chance of getting acceptance."
Board members Andrew Stack of Owen Brown and Gregg Schwind of Hickory Ridge did not support the idea of retaining all 23 pools.
"If Columbia loses a pool or two, we're still well-served," Schwind said.
Tom Coale of Dorsey's Search said he preferred retaining the pools as they are rather than repurposing them.
Cornell, Shari Zaret of Kings Contrivance and Alex Hekimian of Oakland Mills were the three members who did not support changing an outdoor pool to an indoor pool.
However, Hekimian said afterward that he would propose an amendment allowing for a pool to be enclosed if that village's community association supported it.
The board retreat also saw unanimous support for five other statements and goals: describing Columbia's aquatics program as "a system of neighborhood, community and destination pools"; declaring that the system should continue to evolve to meet community needs; that there should be more indoor pool space, which could be done in partnership with the county government and other local entities; that CA should focus on increasing overall pool usage; and that the association should do a better job of collecting data that would help make decisions about the pools.