Councilor Gary Medvigy has agreed to join an ad hoc committee to look at options for a YMCA or other aquatic center within the city
BATTLE GROUND — Efforts to potentially bring a YMCA to Battle Ground received new life recently, prompting an outpouring of community support.
Backers of the effort provided an update to members of the Battle Ground City Council at a March 1 meeting, including news that they could potentially be looking to buy land east of SR-503 near a recently extended stretch of Rasmussen Blvd.
That update resulted in a post on the website Next Door, generating excitement and dozens of letters to Battle Ground City Council in support of a YMCA or other aquatic center coming to the city.
Plans for a YMCA in Battle Ground are nothing new. In fact, it has been nearly a decade since a group of citizens first started pushing for the project. In 2013 they formed the Battle Ground YMCA Task Force, which has been working to raise funding. An online petition by the group has gathered more than 1,000 signatures in support.
Things ramped up again early last year when Tyler Wright took over as CEO of the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette and told members of the city council he was eager to continue efforts to bring a second location to Clark County (a YMCA in Woodland is also planned, though it currently will not include a swimming pool).
Despite widespread agreement that a YMCA in Battle Ground would represent a valuable addition to the community and the region, council members have warned against too much public involvement in such a project.
“Do I want a municipality running a YMCA?” Wright asked in a Jan. 2020 meeting. “The answer’s no. 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.”
At a later meeting, held virtually, the YMCA expressed continued interest in the project, but sought support from the city in the form of discounts on permitting, or help with environmental reviews to smooth the process out. At that time several council members said they weren’t ready for the city to be so directly involved in the project.
At that meeting in March, the YMCA again repeated their interest in the area, and urged city leaders to explore options that could pave the way for it to happen.
Following that meeting, and the deluge of letters in support of the project, Battle Ground Mayor Adrian Cortes says he reached out to Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy, whose district includes Battle Ground, and asked if he would be interested in creating an ad hoc committee made up of city and county leaders to discuss options.
“He’s been just a really great partner to work with in terms of communicating on how we move forward with this in a deliberate process,” Cortes told Clark County Today.
Medvigy said he is fully supportive of bringing a YMCA or other aquatic center to the region, but that the intention is to proceed slowly and cautiously.
“This would be a regional asset to Battle Ground,” he said. “Anyone out in an incorporated area that surrounds Battle Ground would certainly be attracted and benefit from the facilities that they’re proposing.”
Still, both officials stressed that things are in the very early stages, with plenty of discussion still ahead.
Medvigy said his initial concept is that the county might be able to assist with bringing outdoor recreation elements to any future project, such as a park, trails, or baseball fields, potentially through the use of grant funding or other sources.
“It is lawful for the county to contribute to regional assets, whether it’s within the annexed area of the city or in the unincorporated area,” Medvigy noted, before adding that the goal is to be cautious with the use of any taxpayer funding on such a project. “Being fiscally prudent is a good thing, not only for the county, but also for the city.”
One thing the pool would most definitely not be is a publicly funded and operated entity. An effort to put forward such an idea went down in flames in Camas in 2019, ultimately costing the mayor her job in the process.
“This isn’t anything like that,” stressed Medvigy, who lives in Camas. “I mean, this is a public-private partnership proposal, where the costs are borne mainly by the YMCA and private donors.”
Cortes said the vast majority of people he talks with throughout the city of Battle Ground are supportive of a pool being built in the community.
“However, when you ask them, should taxpayers have to subsidize it,” he adds, “that’s where they really start to put the brakes on and be like, ‘well, I don’t know about that.’”
Cortes is quick to say he supports the idea of a pool, but that his first goal is to be fiscally prudent throughout the process.
Three members of Battle Ground city council will be on the ad hoc committee, including Deputy Mayor Philip Johnson and Councilor Shane Bowman, as well as Councilor Shauna Walters who voted against moving ahead with the committee at Monday’s meeting.
“Quite frankly, I wanted people on that ad hoc committee that really understood and would ask hard questions in terms of making sure we’re not putting the taxpayers money in any jeopardy,” said Cortes.
Medvigy said he is still working through things on the county side, but hopes to have himself and Clark County Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien on the committee as well.
One thing that could help to move the project forward this time is the fact that the city’s revenue picture looks somewhat different following the annexation into Fire District 3, which freed up property tax revenue. City leaders have promised to use those funds to fix up streets, add more police, and pursue more community projects, such as parks and trail systems.
Even with the added funding, and broad support for the YMCA coming to town, Cortes said it’s his goal to not fall in love with the potential of the project without asking the hard questions.
“Having kids, sometimes they want that shiny new toy,” he said. “And sometimes the best thing you can do is close your pocketbook and say, ‘you know what, I know you want that, but right now is not the time.’”