Rep. Travis Nelson wins funding for north Portland aquatic center
State Rep. Travis Nelson
The newest state lawmaker from Portland, Travis Nelson, a Black Democratic Party activist who was named state representative for House District 44 in Portland to fill the vacancy of former House Speaker Tina Kotek, was able to achieve a win for his district in a short Legislative session that just ended.
Nelson is being credited with sponsoring a measure in the Legislature’s special session that concluded Friday to include $15 million in lottery funding for a future North Portland Aquatic Center.
Nelson is a registered nurse who rose to prominence as a labor leader in his nursing profession and more recently for advocating for medical workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. He served as co-chair of the Oregon delegation to the 2020 Democratic National Convention and is the first Black lawmaker in Oregon to identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
The future swim center will provide a pool where kids can learn to swim and older adults can exercise. It will also provide a community anchor, and jobs— first in construction and later in recreation and programming—for adults and youth.
Portland Parks and Recreation will work with the community to plan for the site and develop a facility that meets the community’s needs. The facility would replace the Columbia Park indoor pool in north Portland which was closed in 2019 due to life-safety issues.
PP&R is considering Columbia Park, Columbia Annex and the Charles Jordan Community Center as three different sites for the new pool and activity space. There is no design yet, but the project is estimated to cost roughly $50 million.
“I am glad to see the investment that the state was able to make in this community,” Nelson said in prepared remarks. “North Portland deserves the same aquatic access as other parts of Portland. I would like to thank my Senate counterpart, Senator Lew Frederick, for his work on the Joint Committee on Ways and Means. This project will give folks a place to come together for physical activity, community involvement, to teach our youth valuable skills and give youth a productive outlet.”
Officials said PP&R has been working with community partners to diversify Portland’s aquatic centers and make swim lesson more welcoming to minority populations, and to reduce the cost barriers – but those changes are ineffective if there is not a swimming facility nearby.
Without access to a pool to have swim lessons, kids may not learn to swim. Researchers have confirmed that children of color are far less likely to know how to swim and, far worse, identified an unacceptable public health outcome: children of color drown at a higher rate than white kids.
City Commissioner Carmen Rubio and PP&R will work with community partners to explore options to fill the remaining $23.3 million needed to completely fund the project, officials said.
Last April, Rubio set aside $11.7 million in system development charges—the largest dedication ever—toward building a North Portland Aquatic Center. These funds will cover design, permitting, and robust public engagement to begin in the coming months.