Nearly a score of Columbia residents packed the room at a Columbia Association board meeting Thursday, March 8 for a discussion on the future of Columbia's outdoor pools, almost all of the residents urging the board not to change their neighborhood pools.
"I will be deeply saddened if I don't have my pool," said Judy Fischer, who lives in Faulkner Ridge in Wilde Lake, within walking distance of a pool that could be turned into a water playground. "I wanted a pool. I got a pool. I paid for a neighborhood with a pool."
She was joined by many more from her village, as well as others from Long Reach, Oakland Mills and Owen Brown.
"We have heard from you loud and clear," board member Alex Hekimian of Oakland Mills said after the last resident spoke. "There's some common themes in there that we'll have to discuss."
Hekimian is the chairman of the board's planning and strategy committee, a three-person body that will eventually make a recommendation to the full board regarding the master plan.
For the past year, the Columbia Association has been working on an aquatics master plan intended to ensure that its 23 outdoor pools meet the future needs of residents and pool users while considering the area's changing demographics and the rising cost of energy.
After Thursday's hearing, board members agreed that they wanted more time to think and more information to consider before making a decision.
And before deciding what to do with the pools, they need to decide what the pools are intended to be, said board member Andrew Stack of Owen Brown.
"Either the pools are neighborhood pools," he said, "or they're Columbia-wide pools."
In the 1980s, CA moved away from the concept that a pool was for the residents of each neighborhood, but rather for the larger community, which is why not every neighborhood has its own pool.
Board member Phil Kirsch of Wilde Lake said Thursday that the choice was a financial one, due to the amount of debt Columbia Association was facing.
Nevertheless, a significant majority of residents do not swim at their "home pool," but rather go elsewhere, according to Jane Dembner, CA's director of community planning. And the installation years ago of mini-water parks at Hopewell Pool in Owen Brown and Swansfield Pool in Harper's Choice helped cement the idea that pools are Columbia-wide resources, Stack said.
'Home pools' defended
Yet some who spoke Thursday said that if their "home pools" are underused, it is because other pools are more attractive.
"People from my neighborhood have to go to another pool because the hours of operation or so low, because the amenities are minuscule at the pool, and the other pools are more glamorous," Hekimian said.
But Rob Goldman, CA's chief operating officer, said after the meeting that while some pools may not have all the bells and whistles of other pools, the outdoor pools are "extremely well-maintained."
He noted the improvements that have been made to several pools. Also, he said, the association makes a list each year of repairs that needs to be done, and monitors how much furniture is needed throughout the year.
Still, some area residents pleaded for their pools not to become something different.
Margaret Mauro, the vice chairwoman of the Oakland Mills village board, said efforts began last year to attract more people to Talbott Springs Pool and attendance is bound to increase even more this year.
Hector Garcia, executive director of the Columbia-based Foreign Born Information and Referral Network, noted the demographics near that pool and said those living nearby didn't go because of concerns over access, cost and not being aware that less-expensive pool plans are available.
And Maria Garcia, who owns the Columbia Montessori School in Wilde Lake, said closing the adjacent Faulkner Ridge Pool "would impact our school tremendously."
Goldman said research shows that the proposed changes would actually bring more people to Columbia's aquatics facilities, while still allowing much of what Columbia already has to remain.
"If everything in that plan were implemented, it'd take three pools out of the system," he said. "Take those three pools out and look at the 20 that are left, and there are still a large handful that conform to the old, sort-of neighborhood concept."