OROVILLE — Although Chico State University”s Associated Students plans to leave the North Thermalito Forebay Aquatic Center at the end of August, discussions are under way among individuals, groups, and government agencies about keeping the facility open.
The Associated Students recently announced it was not renewing its contract with California State Parks and would be pulling out Aug. 31. The students have run the facility for the last five years.
“It”s a money thing,” said A.S. representative Joel Robinson in a recent telephone interview.
Robinson said originally it was thought the facility would be able to pay for itself.
“With the economy … it was the perfect storm,” he said. “We”re not serving as many students as we hoped and it wasn”t paying for itself.”
Recently, Feather River Rowing Club President Mike Seely, city of Oroville representatives, and officials from State Parks and the Department of Water Resources have met to brainstorm ways to keep the center open.
Michael Fehling of State Parks said they are looking at potential partnerships and identifying an interim operator until a permanent solution is reached.
State Parks manages the North Thermalito Forebay and the Aquatic Center for DWR, which owns the land under federal licensing of the Oroville Dam complex.
The Department of Boating and Waterways provided grant funds for the Aquatic Center building and the purchase of equipment that includes kayaks, sailboats, paddle boats, and life jackets.
Robinson said the Associated Students own some equipment, and hopes to sell that.
The Feather River Rowing Club provides classes at the Aquatic Center. The rowing club has about 20 boats at the center, Seely said.
Seely wants Aquatic Center assets frozen and for the rowing club to become temporary custodian of the facility “until the big guys figure out what”s to be done.”
Fehling said the club is being considered as a possible interim operator, and is working with Boating and Waterways, which could disperse the equipment it owns.
“We hope the equipment will stay in place,” he said.
The city of Oroville is also interested in taking part in some way.
City Administrator G. Harold Duffey said recently the city hopes an operator will be identified and that the Aquatic Center will expand.
“The fear is that when the contract ends, DBW will disperse (its equipment) to other projects in the state,” he said.
Boating and Waterways spokeswoman Gloria Sandoval said as of Tuesday, no decision on the equipment has been made.
Duffey said he will be meeting with officials soon to talk about how they can continue their mission for boating and waterway safety education, “and our mission to keep the facility open and promote it so that we can maximize its recreational appeal.”
“We believe it”s a regional asset that more people need to be exposed to,” Duffey said.
Although the city isn”t interested in taking the concession, it would help develop a business plan and provide bridge funding.
The city has access to grant funding that can be used for youth safety and water awareness programs at the facility.
Robinson voiced regret the Associated Students can”t continue operating the Aquatic Center.
“We hope some program or entity will be able to take it over and provide service,” he said. “It”s a great resource for Oroville and the county … and unique for our area.”
Seely said the local facility isn”t as grand as one at Lake Natomas in Sacramento, but there is potential.
“We hope to have regattas,” Said Seely, adding the Rowing Club”s wish list would see improvements to the East Forebay and more rowing lanes.
For now, the future of the facility is in flux. Fehling said State Parks is hoping to find someone who can come in with a new business model to keep it open and operate more cost-effectively than the Associated Students.
He said having the facility is a good idea, and that it should be expanded and not closed down.