Town and Gown Make a Splash

Town and Gown Make a Splash

Public/private partnership connects a university and its community

California Lutheran University and the City of Thousand Oaks grew up together. California Lutheran College was officially incorporated on Aug. 4, 1959, five years before the city incorporated. CLU is just finishing a wonderful celebration of its first 50 years. And the same birthday is coming up for Thousand Oaks.

Both have prospered in that half-century. Today, CLU has record enrollments and philanthropic support, and an 11-year run of breaking ground or dedicating (or both) a new facility every single year. Two more will be dedicated this spring and another one this coming fall. Thousand Oaks is a wonderful home for the university and a major reason for our success. T.O., as we locals call it, has a population of some 130,000 and is one of the safest cities in the entire nation. Strategically located between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara in the lovely Conejo Valley, it’s a great place to live, work, and raise a family.

Over the decades, town/gown relations have generally been good. Community members helped build the university and shape its future. From the beginning, the campus has served as a gathering place and provided cultural and educational activities for residents. CLU faculty and administrators founded the Conejo Valley Arts Council, Conejo Symphony Orchestra, and Conejo Future Foundation.

The ties between CLU and Thousand Oaks were cemented by a recent joint project that serves the community while enhancing the university experience: the construction of a 4,800-square-foot community pool located on campus.

The pool serves the community while enhancing the university experience.

Symbolically, the pool represents the university’s early history. The institution’s very first facility was a pool. CLU’s first president, Orville Dahl, had volunteers build a pool in 60 days to lure more Lutheran volunteers from Los Angeles to provide the labor needed to turn a ranch’s chicken coops, barns, and sheds into academic buildings. Their children could swim while they toiled and then everyone could cool off at the end of the day. It worked. Thousands of people helped build the college. So, the new community pool completes a full circle, connecting the university to its community and to their shared history. A partnership led by civic leaders such as City Councilmember Dennis Gillette, a former vice president at CLU, City Manager Scott Mitnick, and the Conejo Recreation and Park Department (CRPD) board executive director, Jim Friedl, was formed by the university, city, and CPRD.

Making it Happen

The city and CRPD had been looking to increase access to aquatics facilities and programs so that local kids wouldn’t have to drive long distances and swim at early or late hours. Financial and legal difficulties had prompted the city to demolish its longtime community pool early in the decade. CLU wanted to enhance its growing athletics complex on its North Campus. Beginning in 2005, the city began discussions with CLU and CRPD.

While it took a lot of work to get there, the partnership was quite simple in concept. CLU provided the land and supporting infrastructure, including parking. The city contributed $1.4 million, including a $99,000 federal government grant. CRPD, which has a 30-year lease on the property, contributed $1.9 million and is responsible for the ongoing maintenance, operation, and programming.

It was a great example of how collaboration can overcome challenges, even during tough economic times, and a cooperative model of the sort the public increasingly expects from us.

The result was a seven-lane pool, restrooms, picnic tables, outdoor showers, a flat-screen TV, and a shade structure that actually opened three months ahead of schedule in March 2009.

Talk about a win-win. The community pool, in conjunction with CLU’s Samuelson Aquatics Center 50-meter pool, creates an exceptional facility for CLU and local enthusiasts. Not only do local swimmers get access, but the facility also can be used as a warm-up pool when CLU hosts regional, national, and international aquatics competitions. It’s a busy place where toddlers learn to swim, young swimmers compete, future lifeguards train, college athletes do laps, seniors take water conditioning classes, and families play.

Now, several years along, the partnership is working well. Even the potential difficulties of scheduling have gone smoothly. The CLU Community Pool is regularly held up as a model of creative public-private partnership and it has cemented the strong relationship between town and gown.

Chris Kimball has been president of California Lutheran University since 2008.


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