My View: Closing facility doesn’t make sense for city budget, or our neighborhood

For people who have neighborhood community centers for swimming, playing pickup basketball or taking yoga or dance classes, the loss of Buckman Pool (Buckman Pool may be drained by budget, March 28) may seem unimportant, and the reaction of the Buckman Pool community may seem out of proportion.

For the following reasons, keeping Buckman Pool open makes sense: 1) Portland Parks & Recreation’s longtime promise of providing service to the inner eastside; 2) geographic and socioeconomic equity; 3) providing service to a dense, multimodal neighborhood; and 4) satisfying the core mission of a world-class parks and recreation system.

Buckman Pool is the only parks facility offering year-round programming in Portland’s center city and the inner eastside, which encompasses Kerns, Buckman, Hosford-Abernethy, Brooklyn, Richmond, Sunnyside and Laurelhurst. This area of Portland has been targeted for a full-service community center since the 1990s. Southwest, Mt. Scott and East Portland community centers were built first, despite their proximity to other parks facilities and the documented need for a parks facility in the inner eastside.

Since 2002, Buckman has either been closed or proposed to be closed five times. In 2002, the parks commissioner assured residents that passage of the 2002 parks levy would provide funds to reopen Buckman Pool and keep it open. We campaigned hard to pass that levy and the pool did reopen, only to be closed again a year later due to budget cuts. Meanwhile, a $2.87 million capital improvement project on Wilson Pool, less than a mile from Southwest Community Center, proceeded despite budget cuts.

A 2009 auditor’s report states that the levy funds used to keeping Buckman Pool open were 23 percent less than dedicated, not surprising since it was closed for one out of the five years of the levy. The pool was also renovated in 2006-07 for $500,000. Does it make sense to close the pool before this investment has been recovered?

City’s core mission?

Documents from the Portland Plan show that this area of the inner eastside is one of the city’s densest and has the largest number of households below poverty level. It is also experiencing explosive growth with high-density apartment projects.

Closing the only parks facility in this area does not make sense with these demographics. Many patrons, especially seniors, walk, bike or take transit to Buckman Pool. Closing Buckman Pool will either force those patrons into cars or to look elsewhere for their recreation because the nearest parks facilities are too far for walking or an easy bike ride, or are an hour each way by bus because of transfers and frequency.

A proposed community center at the former Washington High School site, three blocks away, would replace Buckman Pool. However, it is far from certain, despite 20 years of planning, thousands of dollars in planning fees and bureau time and countless volunteer hours. Portland Parks needs to pass a bond, which won’t happen until 2014 at the earliest, to fund construction, and it is on the second year of a 10-year conditional use permit to allow construction of a community center on this site.

The City Budget Office analysis states that the Portland Parks system has grown considerably and is being forced to do more with fewer funds. It also asks: “What services are core to the bureau’s mission? Where do they deliver them? To whom? And at what cost?”

And there are still more questions: Is it a core mission to provide recreation to some segments of the city and not others? Is it a core mission to fund Portland International Raceway and golf course clubhouse construction while depriving inner eastside children of easy access to a parks facility? Would we cut economic assistance to people who need it, because it’s not “efficient” and because everyone else is subsidizing them?

Very little in the parks program is unsubsidized. The general fund subsidy at Buckman Pool is high, although the subsidies at Montavilla, Pier, Matt Dishman, EPCC and Mt. Scott are all higher. Buckman Pool does not bring in as much revenue as other facilities because it has not been made available during popular family hours such as evenings and weekends. Instead, it dedicates hours to Buckman Elementary students and provides the only city location for same gender swims, which give women from certain cultures the opportunity to swim without exposing their bodies to other men.

In the larger picture, Portland Parks’ budget is 3.2 percent of the city’s total budget, and Buckman Pool is 0.009 percent of the parks budget.

Portland has a world-class parks and recreation system, as evidenced by the National Gold Medal Award last year. Maintaining that reputation means maintaining existing facilities and services in an equitable fashion.

Southeast Portland resident Christine Yun wrote this on behalf of the Buckman Pool Heroes and the Buckman Bathing Beauties.

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