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Citizens mount effort to save swimming pool

Leak touched nerve in the community

It's not a formal fundraising campaign yet, but a number of citizens are stepping up and taking action to help save the city of White Salmon's swimming pool.

The unofficial crusade started with a letter from local resident Bill Manly, who was born in White Salmon. Manly, 86, offered to donate $1,000 to ensure that the city pool gets repaired and reopens as normal next June.

Manly said the pool, which was dedicated in July 1935, is too important to lose.

"The Columbia River claimed the lives of several teenagers over the years, and that's one of the reasons the city took on the project to build a swimming pool in town," Manly explained. "That pool has been a life-saver for a lot of kids for 70 years or better. A lot of kids in the county learned to swim there."

Many local residents are passionate about the need for the pool. The recent news that the pool was leaking 30,000 gallons of water a day -- and would not open next year unless it could be fixed -- touched a nerve in the community.

Steve Wolford, owner of Antiques & Oddities in Bingen, said he heard about Manly's pledge to give the city $1,000, and that moved him to action.

"That was pretty magnanimous. If he can do it, I can too," Wolford said. "I will match his $1,000. It's a great pool. It's such an asset to the community. Both of my stepsons and my daughter learned to swim there. I'm hoping a lot of people will step forward with $20 and $50 donations, and that we will get grants from the state."

Wolford said teaching young people to swim has to be at the top of the list for parents.

"It's a good cause and something we need to do. Learning to swim is just as important as reading," he explained. "We've all benefited from that pool, so it's time to step up."

Trista Paulson, coordinator of the Community Youth Center in White Salmon, said kids who come to the center also are putting up money in an effort to keep the pool available.

"We all read the newspaper article about the pool together at the Youth Center," Paulson recalled. "The kids wanted to do something to help, so we brainstormed some ideas. In the summer, we usually go three times a week. It's definitely something they look forward to, and it's a big part of our activities."

Last week, the Youth Center kids made a $100 donation to the city to demonstrate their support for the pool.

"I think it's the largest donation we've made since I've been here over the last two years," Paulson said. "One hundred dollars is a lot of money for the kids."

Linda Schneider, executive director of Washington Gorge Action Programs, which oversees the Youth Center, said she was proud of the kids.

"That was money they raised themselves, working in a rummage sale," Schneider said. "I was really proud of them."

Paulson pointed out that access to the pool is more than simply a fun activity.

"A few of our kids took swimming lessons there," Paulson said. "We usually help them sign up for that."

On Sept. 25, White Salmon Public Works Director Mike Wellman prepared a revised estimate of the costs for necessary pool repairs. According to Wellman, the swimming pool needs a minimum of nine fixes or upgrades. The list includes sealing the pool bottom; replacing the roof of the shower/office facilities; replacing the pool deck concrete; putting in a new electrical box for the pool; installing new stairs into the adjacent maintenance area and repairing the ceiling; constructing a handicap accessible entrance to the pool; replacing the boiler and adding solar capability; and replacing the concrete lip of the pool.

Wellman put the total price tag for the project at about $33,000.

Manly said no specific account has been set up yet.

"Someone needs to ask one of the banks in Bingen or White Salmon to receive donations, which is done all the time for various things," Manly said. "I would do this myself, if I was in better shape. We need to keep stirring up interest until someone steps forward."

Although no formal announcement has yet been made, a large corporation is reportedly working to find a way to make a sizable donation to the city's pool fund.

According to Schneider, the corporation needs to go through a 501(c)3 charitable institution to route its donation to the city of White Salmon, and is working with Washington Gorge Action Programs.

"We are certified by the IRS to be a charitable organization, so companies and individuals can donate money and receive a tax credit for it," Schneider explained. "We're willing to be the fiscal agent, and the corporation can donate to us and we can pass the money through to the city."

Timi Keene, chair of the White Salmon City Council's parks and recreation committee, said she believes the pool will be able to open next year as planned, but a long-term solution is needed.

"There is sufficient money in the city's capital improvement fund to cover the repair work as presented to us by Mike Wellman. We have sufficient funds to cover the repairs, assuming there are no more major surprises," Keene said.

Keene pointed out that one idea under consideration would be to place any donations in a pool reserve account to go toward a new pool, which the city believes will be needed within no more than 10 years.

Keene added that she will propose that the pool be open for four months next year, instead of the usual three months.

"We would open June 1, but then continue through the end of September," Keene explained. Typically, the pool has closed for the year at the end of August.



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