Near as we can tell, nobody is planning to close the Aquatic Center at Mt. Hood Community College (insert sigh of relief here). But that doesn't mean the college isn't considering significant changes.

Faced with rising costs campus-wide, and with the unsettling truth that the Aquatic Center does not pay for itself - it ran a deficit of $647,842 in 2010-11 - we understand why the board would take the opportunity for a closer look.

At the most basic level, the pool operation should never rank among the college board's highest priorities on its list of core academic necessities; those that prepare students for their first careers and new careers. That's why we're grateful to learn the college board is putting the Aquatic Center under a microscope with the intention of closing the gap between breaking even and paying out subsidies. Before the board are suggestions ranging from fee increases to work force reduction to holding down energy costs.

No matter what, The Outlook and Sandy Post strongly caution the college board against taking the radical step of closing of the Aquatic Center. And we'd also caution the board against going too far in terms of higher fees and reduced services.

The Aquatic Center is - in many ways -a jewel of East County. The quality of the facility is above and beyond what can be found in much of the Portland-metro area. And the Aquatic Center functions as a positive connection between the college and the community, providing a place where children and adults learn to swim, where people go for recreation and where residents can get exercise and rehabilitation. The loss of these positive uses would harm the local quality of life.

Add to that the dollars that circulate throughout this community as the result of competitive swim events that utilize the pool, and you begin to realize that some level of subsidy is perfectly acceptable.

Because the college is serious about preserving precious dollars for academic programs, we feel strongly that the college should become more aggressive at forming public/private partnerships involving the Aquatic Center. Those partnerships would bring in new revenue streams and reduce the subsidies for the pool.

• Perhaps there are private gyms that don't have pools. Those gyms - for a fee - could offer their customers increased services.

• Perhaps the local medical community could find a way to send more patients to the college pool for wellness and rehab purposes.

These efforts are worthwhile not only because our society as a whole needs more places for healthy recreation to curb the slide into obesity and illness, but also because the services provided by the college connect it to the community. That connection will pay off in the future when the college comes asking for public support of bond measures for much-needed improvements.

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