For sake of community fun and fitness, don't let Splashdown slide

A Columbia Association task force is still soliciting community input as it develops its recommendations for the future of CA aquatics facilities and programs, but it would appear that, when it comes to the Columbia Swim Center's Splashdown water slide, the CA board has already chosen its path.

But while the board might have jumped the gun, there are good reasons for it to do so.

The board last week approved $120,000 worth of repairs to the staircase that takes patrons to the top of the center's Splashdown flumes. Like most of us whose heyday was in the 1980s, the stairway support structure has accumulated some rust.

But the approved repairs are just a Band-Aid. The attraction will require another $250,000 worth of work within the next two years if CA officials want to keep it open.

Apparently, they do.

A 2007 engineering survey turned up problems in the water slide that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix. The board back then — noting declining Splashdown usage and the distinct possibility that a bigger and better water-slide attraction might pop up in neighboring Anne Arundel County — shied away from authorizing the needed repairs.

That potential competitor never materialized, possibly owing to the economic nosedive that began the following year. However, that same downturn hit the CA bottom line, too, and with a couple of lake-dredging projects dragging on, the board has to think long and hard before it takes on another capital project.

But the die is cast. The association is now more or less committed to keeping Splashdown running for the foreseeable future. Why spend $120,000 on Splashdown now if you're just going to let it go to seed in a couple of years?

In the end, saving Splashdown will prove to be the right decision.

The Swim Center without Splashdown would be a like a Big Mac without the special sauce. More to the point, losing it would mean losing a viable alternative to Chuck E. Cheese.

For parents of elementary school-age children with winter birthdays, party options are scarce. Pin the tail on the donkey is OK for about 10 minutes, but once the kids get full of cake, they need something physical to help them burn some of that energy. Keeping them cooped up in your house is not a good idea.

The pizza-and-video-game venues tend to get kids overamped and the exercise they get is generally restricted to their thumbs and forearms. And the stimulus overload gives parents headaches.

Bowling can work, but some kids get bored and/or frustrated with it, even with the bumpers that most alleys will provide to prevent gutter balls.

A swim party in January, though, can be just what the doctor ordered for parents and kids alike. Swimming is one of the best kinds of exercise you can get and it's fun. Throw in the thrill of flying down the flume and you've got yourself an event.

Quality of life comprises a pillar of the CA mandate. A fully functioning swim center contributes to that and some of the kids who come to the center just for the fun of Splashdown will pick up the swimming habit as a result.

The neighborhood pools continue to pose a dilemma for the association as many are underused. Advocates for the concept have succeeded so far in keeping them all open, but the idea of consolidation won't go away. Should CA officials ultimately choose to close some outdoor pools, a year-round facility that is friendly to kids and serious exercise swimmers alike will become even more important.

This could be in the minds of board members, too. Reinvesting now (when construction costs will be low, relative to those in boom times) in the swim center feature that is the most fun will give them a fallback should outdoor pool consolidation become necessary.

Once the Splashdown gets its facelift, the association should also invest in some outreach that will re-establish it as a destination.

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