The Columbia Association announced Monday it will not open its pools or operate camps this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic and budgetary challenges the disease has caused.
President and CEO Milton Matthews, as well as board of directors Chair Andrew Stack, wrote in a news release that it was a “tough decision” to close the association’s 23 pools and cancel the 17 camps that host more than 800 kids each year.
“The overarching matter we are dealing with is health and safety,” Matthews said in an interview Tuesday. “That is our primary concern for us.”
The association’s announcement comes after Howard County Executive Calvin Ball allowed outdoor pools and outdoor youth camps and sports in the county to reopen beginning May 29.
Jeff Anderson, a Columbia Association member, said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by the decision. A father of four in Ellicott City, Anderson and his family regularly goes to Longfellow Pool in the summer and his children are on the Harper’s Choice swim team.
“The pool is probably 90% of the social interaction that my kids have in the summer, so I’m sad for them,” Anderson said. “I understand why they made this decision, since the nature of the pools certainly provides a huge obstacle to keeping the kids socially distanced. But it’s just a shame.”
The Columbia Association, which is both a homeowners association that serves more than 100,000 residents and a membership organization with almost 60,000 members, also announced furloughs or layoffs for 90% of its staff due to financial constraints. The remaining 10% of employees have received pay cuts of up to 50%, including senior leadership.
“I can’t tell you how difficult it was to do furloughs and layoffs and pay cuts, but we just don’t have the financial resources right now due to the situation we’re in,” Matthews said.
The association’s board of directors approved its fiscal 2021 budget Feb. 20 with a projected operating income of $80 million. However, due to the closures of all association facilities and programming on March 15 because of the coronavirus, the new projected total is down 30%. The 2021 capital budget has also been reduced from $15 million to $8 million, the release states.
In addition to the health concerns, Matthews said facilities and programs like its pools and camps aren’t financially independent and rely on other streams of income at the Columbia Association fill in the gaps. However, without income from areas like after-school programs, fitness clubs and indoor tennis facilities since March, funding pools and camps wasn’t possible, Matthews said.
“What’s hurting us right now is [those] income streams aren’t available to us,” Matthews said. “For an organization like the Columbia Association, you have some activities for the community that don’t pay for themselves. So what we do is we have other areas that do pay for the other programs. Financially, we don’t have the income stream to operate those this summer.”
James Schwind, a lifeguard at Clary’s Forest pool, said not earning a paycheck from the pool this summer will be difficult for many lifeguards. A student at Towson University, Schwind, 20, uses the money he makes at the pool to pay for college books, meals and gas.
“It’s not as bad as a lot of people, and a lot of us are still living with our parents, but it’s still a disappointment for a lot of us,” he said. “I’m sure there are some lifeguards who are helping pay rent or for food for their families.”
While pools and camps are shut down for the summer, the association will still operate two of its tennis courts — Owen Brown and Wilde Lake — and its two golf courses — Fairway Hills and Hobbit’s Glen — which opened back up on May 13. The group also plans to assess whether it can reopen the fitness clubs, the indoor Columbia Swim Center and the Long Reach Tennis Club “within the next several weeks,” according to the release.
The decision to not open its pools comes about six weeks after the Columbia Neighborhood Swim League, which has 14 teams and has operated since 1969, canceled its season.