The new president and CEO of YMCA of Columbia-Willamette also spoke at the meeting
BATTLE GROUND — It’s a dream nearly a decade in the making, but it appears there may be some new life to the goal of bringing a YMCA to the city of Battle Ground.
But the group backing the idea understands if you’re a bit skeptical upon reading this.
“I’m learning that volunteer efforts take a lot longer than I imagined,” said Karl Johansson, an architect who has volunteered with Friends of the Battle Ground YMCA since the beginning.
Johansson was at the Jan. 21 city council meeting, along with Jodine Dixon who now heads up the citizen task force, and Tyler Wright, who recently took over as president and CEO of YMCA of Columbia-Willamette, to give an update on their efforts.
While the presentation was largely just a chance for Wright to meet the council members and introduce himself, Johansson said there has been progress on selecting a site for the facility, though he would only say it’s on Rasmussen Blvd.
“We were hoping to be, six months ago, in a purchase and sale agreement, but it’s just very slow,” Johansson told the council. “Has to do with money.”
Friends of the Battle Ground YMCA, formed in 2013, have raised money to conduct a market feasibility study, completed in 2017. Last year YMCA of Columbia-Willamette hired Westby Associates to do a follow-up report. Wright says what he’s heard makes him believe Battle Ground would be a good spot for a new facility, but what it ends up being is an open question.
Council members expressed skepticism over the project, which had once been described as using the “Sherwood model.”
In Sherwood, Oregon, the city built the facility, then brought in the YMCA to manage it. Eventually, several members of that city council tried to boot the YMCA in favor of their own operations group. Wright says that effort failed, but it shows the difficulty of municipalities being too involved in a community project.
“I can use Tucson (Arizona) as a great example right now, who built the majority of their YMCA in collaboration with the city, and the parks and recreation department,” said Wright. “And they’re about a $25 million facility, but if you look at their balance sheet, it looks like they have about $10 million of assets. They’re now in trouble at this particular point.”
Wright added that he approaches the YMCA from a programs basis, rather than a building basis. While he would support Battle Ground if there were demand for a facility, it needs to be focused on what the community really wants.
“If you look across the landscape of our wonderful country, YMCAs who built incredible facilities are now asking themselves, ‘how do we continually afford the upkeep and the capital expenditures of these particular facilities?’” said Wright. “And we are closing buildings left and right.”
Instead, Wright said, he wants to do more research to determine what the needs are, and what the community would be willing to pay to support those programs.
“I’m very, very, very excited to understand what the great gaps are here in our Battle Ground community,” said Wright. “And if that means that somebody points to me and says ‘that little office space over there, that’s the YMCA, but we’re serving youth and families on school campuses and churches and in parks,’ I think that’s a wonderful way to start this wonderful organization.”
Asked what he would need from the city of Battle Ground to get the project started, Wright said they might request some help with permitting fees, and development costs, but he would not ask the city to fund the building.
“If you ask me, ‘do I want a municipality running a YMCA?’ The answer’s no,” Wright told the council. “What I’m interested in is a community grassroots driven type of organization, that will help fund the YMCA because of whatever need or gap we see in this particular community.”
Dixon said the group has renewed optimism, with the potential for an agreement around a piece of land and new leadership at YMCA of Columbia-Willamette, that the project can finally move from just a dream into something with a real chance of succeeding.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” said Dixon. “We haven’t declared victory yet. It certainly will be a multi-phase project.”
Earlier concepts of the building envisioned a 40,000-square-foot facility with a gymnasium, exercise facilities, and a warm water therapy pool. The site would also include a community area for teenagers to spend time, even if they’re not YMCA members. The group anticipates that any facility would have to be built in stages, with a full-size lap pool coming later. Wright said he’s open to flipping that plan, building the pool first, and then bringing the rest in later.
“If (a) pool is the thing that we really feel is necessary, let’s go build a pool,” Wright told the council. “But let’s build it from community support. I don’t want money from you. I’ll take money from the state, why not? But I don’t want money from the city.”
A public pool and better community center were among the top desires of Battle Ground residents who responded to the city’s 2018 visioning study, so it’s likely the idea of a YMCA would get public support from many. But with the city asking residents to approve annexation into Fire District 3 next month, meaning higher property tax bills, there’s no appetite for a public bond similar to the one that failed spectacularly in Camas in past November.
YMCA of Columbia-Willamette has set up a page where people interested in supporting a facility in Battle Ground can donate. Friends of the Battle Ground YMCA expect that, whenever they can announce an acquisition of a plot of land, support will really ramp up.
What that support amounts to though is anybody’s guess at this point.