By Midge Pierce

The lead in Portland Public Schools drinking water may have sealed the fate of Buckman Pool.

PPS recently informed members of a group called the Friends of Buckman Pool that it intends permanent closure of the facility because of the condition of the physical plant and tests showing high levels of lead paint and asbestos in the pool area and locker rooms. A spokesperson confirms that PPS simply can not cover repair costs approaching $400,000.

Residents understand that safe drinking water is the district’s priority. What upsets them is the almost annual run-around that has thwarted decades’ long attempts to secure recreational facilities for inner southeast.

After years of leading the charge to keep the pool open, Christine Yun says she’s angry that the pool – and a community center promised decades ago –are consistently put on the chopping block.

“The inner Eastside has been trying to get a community center for 30 years. We don’t have the options that people in other parts of Portland have. Inner southeast is so dense, and growing denser. Yet, we have to drive five miles for a community center. That’s not in our value system.”

Buckman Pool is complicated by the fact it nests inside a school facility over which the City does not have direct control. This year, the Friends successfully lobbied to get operational funds for the pool into the city budget only to have the Multnomah County health inspector shut the pool down because of peeling lead paint in the locker rooms.

While the pool is managed by Portland Parks & Recreation, PPS, as property owner, is responsible for major building maintenance and repairs.

PPS claims that lead and asbestos abatement is exacerbated by an HVAC system that is inadequate to manage the pool’s humidity, causing paint to peel and fumes to permeate the school.

Rough estimates for repair are more than $390,000 – money needed to mitigate lead in drinking water district-wide.

Before the PPS recent announcement, Yun was optimistic a creative solution could be found by utilizing funds unused during recent closures. She felt that fixing the pool should be an option until the long promised community center could be built. Despite community members working with the City on siting and designs, a recreation center does not seem imminent.

A letter from the Friends’ group calling for the City’s support in reopening the pool lamented that community users have difficulty finding nearby alternatives. “With the increased resident density and traffic in this part of Portland, loss of local recreational resources is a degradation of livability. It would be a shame to have a generation of neighborhood school children without an opportunity to learn to swim.”

The Parks department says it is working to accommodate Buckman pool patrons at Creston, Matt Dishman and Mt. Scott pools.

As of this writing, the Friends have been able to get a concession from PPS to keep the pool filled for 90 days while the group seeks further solutions. The pool needs to stay filled if it is ever to reopen. Once it is drained, the concrete will start to crack in a matter of weeks.

At City budget hearings several months ago, a resident testified that Buckman has been a lifeline for families, the elderly and those in need of physical rehabilitation.

“It may not be fancy but it fills a need. Swimming is as important as breathing for some of us.”