Portland Community College plans to permanently close the swimming and diving pools at the college’s Sylvania Campus in Southwest Portland this June.
A Portland Community College sign is pictured in Portland, Ore., May 16, 2016.
Bryan M. Vance / OPB
PCC administrators said the decision was made due to the costs associated with repairs and the replacement of aging infrastructure.
Faculty, students and other community members are questioning the decision to close the facilities.
The dive and lap pools in PCC Sylvania’s Health Technology building were built in the 1970s and have been used by PCC students and employees as well as community members up until the start of the pandemic roughly two years ago.
According to PCC spokesperson James Hill, the college conducted a feasibility study of the pools.
“None of the options were inexpensive,” Hill told OPB in a statement.
Hill said due to the age of the pools, short-term fixes would not have mitigated more significant repairs in the future, and the ultimate recommendation was to replace both pools. That would cost an estimated $25-30 million.
The annual costs to operate and maintain the pools are more than $300,000, and annual revenue usually hits about half of that amount, Hill said.
OPB spoke with a wide range of people familiar with the pools, including current employees and people who worked at the facilities roughly 50 years ago. Many acknowledged the hefty costs of maintaining an aquatic facility but noted the importance to the wider community.
Mike Guthrie has taught swimming and water safety at PCC since 1999. He says he’s taught more than 1,500 students in the Sylvania pools.
Guthrie said he and other PCC faculty and staff who work in and around the pools did not get a chance to give adequate input on the closure decision.
Hill said falling enrollment during the pandemic exacerbated the financial situation with the pools.
PCC reported a 2.6% drop in enrollment last fall. In comparison to before the pandemic, the school has about 21% fewer students than in 2019.
“It would have been disingenuous to engage the community in discussion about whether or not to close the pools when the College reviewed the cost of their replacement and knew it was beyond the scope of PCC’s budget,” Hill said.
Still, Guthrie and others are hoping the college might reconsider.
“I think there’s time to revisit [the decision] and bring in those stakeholders … Bring them in to the table to revisit, and to help come up with some informed, collaborative and equitable decisions regarding this,” Guthrie said.
The PCC aquatics facility is not just for college students and employees. Guthrie noted the pools also provide community education courses — offering swim lessons to kids and adults, lifeguard training and water safety instruction. Clubs, organizations and local swim teams also sometimes rent the facility.
Guthrie said the pool has always served a diverse range of people.
Charles Shibue, who is a longtime community member, told OPB he had been taking classes and swimming at the PCC aquatics facility since the 1990s. He’s 82 years old and has had both his knees replaced. He said he probably went to the pool four or five times a week before the pandemic.
Teressa Schroeder, a part-time instructor at PCC who teaches English language courses, had been swimming at PCC’s aquatic facility for about 20 years before she started teaching at the college. Schroeder said her young daughter loved going swimming with her husband at the time. When he died, she was prompted to learn how to swim as an adult to keep up with her daughter. Schroeder’s first swim class was in 1999. She went to the Sylvania pools about three times a week since then, she said.
Katie Backus is an exercise science and gerontology student at PCC. Backus said her plan is to eventually instruct older adults in aquatic fitness. She’s signed up to take two classes in the Sylvania pools this upcoming term, but that will be the first and last time she’s able to experience the pools.
As of Friday, more than 650 people have signed an online petition pushing administrators to keep the aquatics facility open.
Dave Traweek retired from PCC after working about 26 years managing the Sylvania pools. He started working at the college in 1981.
Traweek said when he heard about the pools closing, he wasn’t surprised, “because it’s an expensive facility to run, as is any aquatic facility.”
But, he was disappointed.
Traweek said the pools have been a great source of connecting the college to the Portland community. He noted that the residents in Portland and surrounding areas have supported PCC in the past through bond measures funded by taxpayers.
Most recently, some of the money from a 2017 Multnomah County bond went toward pool upkeep. According to PCC, $350,000 of that bond paid for repairs to the Sylvania dive pool.
“If you close the pool, you lose that source of goodwill,” Traweek said. “Some things have an intrinsic value above their raw monetary cost.”
Traweek said the PCC aquatics facility has also been helpful to the wider community in other ways. During his time as pool manager, when other facilities in the area had issues with their swimming pools, they were able to use PCC’s.
“There was that cooperation between facilities, which is also going to be lost,” Traweek said. “This is kind of like dropping a pebble into a pond. The ripples go far and wide.”
Hill, the PCC spokesperson, said the college will reach out to community partners with pools around the metro area to continue PCC aquatics courses “closer to where people work, study and live.” Those could include parks and recreation partners, Hill said, as well as private athletic clubs.
The community college plans to eventually use the space the pools occupy in the Health Technology building for another purpose.
Hill said any future plans for the space would involve community input.