River Hill Tot Lot Upgrade


The River Hill Community Association’s Board of Directors remains committed to improving children’s play spaces in River Hill. Based on feedback obtained from residents in September, the Association in October formally requested that the Columbia Association (CA) include capital funds in the FY19/20 budget to upgrade two tot lots in the village with more modern play equipment. The goal is to update one tot lot in each neighborhood—Pheasant Ridge and Pointers Run.

While awaiting approval on project timing, CA recommends that the River Hill community proceed with determining which two tot lots to upgrade, which should be slightly larger in size, centrally located, and have the highest utilization.

We welcome your thoughts and suggestions on the tot lot upgrades and on possible locations. Please e-mail feedback to Dalia Shlash, River Hill Board Member and Open Space Liaison, to dalia.shlash@gmail.com with your suggestions on potential locations no later than January 1, 2018. A community meeting to discuss site selection and upgrade timing will be held on January 18, from 6–7 p.m., in the Board Room at Claret Hall.

In my opinion, one candidate of the tot lots for upgrade is between Indian Summer Drive, Summer Sky Path and Distant Thunder Trail.  I would love the upgraded tot lot including a cover to prevent too much sunshine and rain and some benches to sit down when needed.

Please see the attached photo for location:




December Community News Update (The Villager 2017-12)

December Community News Update

This article is published on the River Hill Community Association “The Villager” 2017 December issue.

Columbia Association Side

At the request from many community members, the Columbia Association (CA) Board of Directors recently affirmed the Paris Agreement on climate change and remains committed to clean energy. I am glad that CA has been a pioneer for environmental protection and clean energy adoption. I hope this act will encourage individuals in our community to take steps to reduce their personal carbon footprint by doing such things as walking more and maintaining reasonable room temperatures. Walk our walk, not talk our talk.

Other recent CA Board highlights:

  • Held a discussion on New Town Zoning with Howard County DPZ and Consultants;
  • Discussed and approved the new and simpler Assessment Share for the Columbia villages;
  • Discussed the village associations’ contingency fund (around half million dollars) and decided the funds will be distributed among the 10 villages (each village gets 5%) and CA (gets 50%).
  • Discussed and approved a 20% Cap on Cash Reserves for the villages.
  • Discussed major capital projects and new operating initiatives received to-date in the Proposed FY 2019 and Conditional FY 2020 Budgets

School System Side

Many community members have kept an eye on or become involved in the school redistricting process since summer. The Board of Education made the final decision on attendance areas for the 2018-2019 school year on November 16. Here is how the River Hill area is impacted:

  • Pointers Run Elementary will receive Polygon 127 from Clements Crossing Elementary.
  • Clarksville Middle School will receive from Lime Kiln Middle School Polygons 117, 118, 120, 123, 126, 127, 296, 1117, 1120, 1123, 1296.
  • High school overcrowding will be mitigated by the JumpStart Program and Direct Enrollment Program. River Hill High School will receive students from other crowded high schools.

Happy Thanksgiving! Be prepared for the cold winter and enjoy the happiness of the holidays.

Chao Wu, Ph.D.

River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors

Email: chaowu2016@gmail.com Website: http://www.chaowu.org

Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.

Photo: The big tree inside the Mall of Columbia.

Where does CA’s money go?

Thanks to CA board chair Andy Stack’s email, I am putting something together to show how expensive CA  is facing to maintain and fix its current facilities.  This article partially responds to the question “where does CA’s money go” I heard during this Thanksgiving holiday. Many residents see their annual charge keep increasing and the gym membership is more expensive than ever.
As a board member of Columbia Association, I want to make sure the Columbia Association is spending its money wisely. Besides our human resource cost ( we have around 270 full time employee and 700 part time employee), here are some capital project in the pipeline. Note CA has around 70 million dollars annual budget.
A 5-year capital plan was discussed in June 2016. CA board were presented with 7 facility assessments which had estimated replacement values. All replacement estimates are in 2016 dollars and do not include all costs.

Large Capital Project on the line

 Athletic Club replacement        $24 M
Ice Rink replacement                  $16.5 M
Art Center replacement             $3.3 M
Stonehouse replacement           $6.5 M
The Other Barn replacement    $4.5 M
Teen Center replacement          $3.5 M
Maintenance Facility replace   $11.5 M
The reports identified millions of dollars of improvements/upgrades/repairs which were needed for each of these buildings. CA board have only approved funds for the Ice Rink and the Athletic Club. The proposed budget finishes these and starts the work on Art Center and Stonehouse. In addition to these facilities, CA still have the Supreme Sports Club, Slayton House and Kahler Hall among other facilities which need upgrades/repairs.

Five Year Capital Spending budget

Overall in June 2016, CA estimated that the following capital budgets were needed to maintain/repair/upgrade existing facilities and other items.
FY-2018  $23.2 M
FY-2019  $19.6 M
FY-2020  $17.8 M
FY-2021  $16.5 M
FY-2022  $17.5 M
And these figures did not include things like dredging of Lake Elkhorn and CA’s headquarter building as well as any new facilities. We are in need of five million dollars for pond management alone in the next ten years. Our FY-2018 capital budget was not $23.2 M as CA could not afford that sum. We are fortunate that current economic conditions allow CA to have FY-2019 and FY-2020 capital budgets of $20 M each year. It is not clear that economic conditions beyond FY-2020 will allow CA to continue to have such large capital budgets.
After the Swim Center and Athletic Club, CA will continue to have multi-million dollar capital requirements to repair/upgrade/maintain our facilities and associated items. And all these costs without any new facilities. A New facility would add millions of additional dollars to any future capital budget and many new facility may be a money loss machine due to its nature.
The CA Board has been very insistent that CA fix/upgrade/repair/maintain its existing facilities before considering any new facilities in the past.

Some considerations in the past

Of course when we are presented with the costs of fixing/repairing/upgrading a particular facility, the CA Board should look at whether a replacement would be more cost effective. When considering the Hobbits Glen Clubhouse, whether to repair/upgrade or replace, the CA Board decided that a replacement made better economic sense. And so a new clubhouse was built. Similarly, the CA Board decided that a new Indoor Tennis facility was a better choice than trying to upgrade/maintain the existing Tennis Bubble. In the situation with the existing Swim Center, the CA Board came to the opposite conclusion; it would be better to repair/upgrade the existing Swim Center than build a new Swim Center.

Poor and Rich Psychology Pendulum

There is an old saying: it is easier to live from poor to rich and it is more difficult to live from rich to poor.  Many of us may just take many great things in the community for granted since the area has been on the rise and prosperous for a long time. Now, as CA has many old facilities which are competing for the limited resources for repair or renovation, we may face tough choices if the economy changes its directions.
One very simple example now is we don’t  have the leaf collection service. I am surprised that either CA or the county government do not provide such service since we are advocating for green neighborhood. The consequence is that we have piles and piles of leaves in the fall. I spent several hours to put those leaves in 20 bags. It will be much cheaper and convenient for many residents (especially for seniors) if CA or the county government sets a date and collects those leaves.  I talked about this problem among CA board members and CA staff and one reason we did not have it: the service is too expensive.

Columbia Association affirms Paris Agreement on climate change, remains committed to clean energy

I am glad that CA has been a pioneer for environmental protection and clean energy adoption. I wish this act will encourage individuals in our community takes the same step to reduce our personal carbon footprint by walking more, turning down room temperature in the winter and turning up room temperature in the summer. Walk our walk, not talk our talk.

CA board also considers to set up a climate advisory committee.  We look forward to community engagement.

The following is the official press release.



From the beginning, Columbia Association (CA) has proudly shouldered the responsibility bestowed by Columbia’s founder, James W. Rouse, to “respect the land” and care for the environment.

As part of that responsibility, CA’s Board of Directors voted on Oct. 26 to affirm its support for the Paris Agreement, which seeks to combat climate change by limiting the rise of global temperatures that has occurred during the industrial era.

“Columbia Association has worked for years to reduce our energy footprint as well as enhance our environmental efforts,” said Andrew Stack, chairman of Columbia Association’s Board of Directors. “We are encouraging our community and communities around the world to do their part in supporting the Paris Agreement and global efforts to combat climate change.”

CA has been a leader in clean energy for several years. All of CA’s electricity use is offset with green power, thanks to a two-megawatt installation at Nixon Solar Farm in Western Howard County; solar panels at Amherst House and River Hill Pool; and the purchase of wind renewable energy certificates. As a result, CA has reduced its carbon footprint by more than half.

This reduction in emissions is also due to significant efforts to reduce energy consumption. CA is part of the Department of Energy’s Better Building Challenge, committing to a 20 percent reduction in energy use intensity across its building portfolio between 2012 and 2022. Columbia Association has made significant progress and is presently at an 18 percent reduction through the use of ENERGY STAR equipment, LED lighting, combined heat and power technology, and advanced operational practices.

This commitment comes despite the challenges these efforts pose. CA owns more than 50 community buildings, as well as 23 outdoor pools, many of which date back several decades. Due to their age and usage characteristics, these buildings historically have been very energy intensive. Columbia Association staff are continuing to find ways to make them more energy efficient and sustainable while serving the community.

CA also spreads the word about the importance of clean energy to its team members and in the Columbia community. In recent years, CA has launched the Columbia Solar Cooperative, which helps residents install solar panels at a reduced cost, and directed residents to the rebates and incentives offered as part of BGE’s Smart Energy Savers Program, which includes home performance energy audits, appliance rebates and other energy efficiency incentives.

“These efforts are an investment, but they are also an investment in the future,” said Milton W. Matthews, president/CEO of Columbia Association. “Our energy use is significant. During the previous fiscal year, Columbia Association’s total energy consumption — electricity, natural gas, propane, fuel oil, gasoline, and diesel — was equal to that of more than 900 average homes. Any changes we make for the better will be worthwhile. We hope the Columbia community will do the same. The more who join in, the more of a difference we can make together.”



We Need to Improve Our System Modeling (The Villager 2017-11)

We Need to Improve Our System Modeling

This article is published in the River Hill “The Villager”, November 2017 Issue.

In this column, I will briefly present information about two system modeling problems that negatively impact the River Hill community from Columbia Association (CA) and Howard County Public School System (HCPSS).

Case I: Columbia Association Assessment Share Formula.

A CA work team has been analyzing the formula that determines the amount of money that is distributed to each village association from the assessments paid by Columbia property owners. This Assessment Share forms the foundation for each village’s income stream, with additional revenue generated by rental of the village-managed buildings, newsletter advertising, and various programs and services. As the River Hill Board of Directors was preparing a response to the CA work team on the revised formula, there was a debate on how to simplify the formula. CA board members hear complaints that the current formula is too complicated and a simpler model is needed.

The fallacy is that simplicity results in a better or more accurate model. During the River Hill Board’s discussion, one example of over simplicity identified was with the computation of the newsletter printing costs that was factored into the formula component . The proposed formula uses a flat rate:

formula 1

where x is the printing rate and N is the number of copies. So, if we print 2000 copies, the cost is 2000 * x dollars. If we print 10000 copies, the cost is 10000 * x dollars.  Based on this, the more copies a village needs (a.k., the larger population the village has), the more beneficial the assessment share formula will be. However, in reality, we know printing rates vary depending on the volume of the copies. A slightly better model will account for varying rates, for example:

formula 2

where we have two different printing rates, , for different printing volumes. Usually,  x1 is larger than x2.

As a result, the over-simplified model in Equation (1) gives unfair advantage to villages printing more newsletters. Villages with smaller populations, such as River Hill, are negatively impacted. Similarly, other over-simplified models were used to compute other cost components of the assessment share formula. As a result, the final recommended formula does not accurately reflect the true expenses of each village.

Case II: School Population Prediction.

When Renee Kamen, Manager of Office of School Planning of HCPSS, attended a recent redistricting forum sponsored by the River Hill Community Association, she stated the HCPSS student population prediction model is accurate within 1% error, which implied the predictions model is very accurate. However, based on research by River Hill residents, Pointers Run Elementary School (PRES) consistently receives around 10% more students than predicted by the HCPSS model in recent years. So, the overall accuracy of the model masks the populations in some schools. After examining the actual enrollment numbers at PRES during 2002-2012, analysis shows a continuous decline in student population. However, the student population bounces back very quickly after that. In the HCPSS student projection model, student population at PRES decreases continuously into 2018. Obviously, the HCPSS prediction model does not take into account the current enrollment trend at PRES.

In this case, for each individual school, no matter how accurate the overall prediction is, it does not matter. It only matters when the model predicts the right student number at the school. If not, the model fails. The school system needs to find a way to modify, improve and validate the current student population prediction model as it is being used to support school redistricting.

I hope this article gives you some idea of how an over-simplified or inaccurate model can impact our community and the importance of  getting the mathematical modeling correct.


Chao Wu, Ph.D.

River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors

Email: chaowu2016@gmail.com  Website: http://www.chaowu.org

Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.

CA Board Meeting Summary of 2017-10-26

Resident Speakout:

  1. Tim L., talked about CA’s effort to reduce carbon footprint, great development in Long Reach Village, signing the Paris Agreement, possibly creating a CA Climate Advisory Committee.
  2. Joel Hurwitz, talked about signing the Paris Agreement.
  3. Richard D., talked about signing the Paris Agreement. CA needs get words out on our on this.

Columbia China Sister City Update

CA board members Dick Boulton and Alan Klein, together with the China Sister City Delegate returned with signing a MOU with our potential sister city- Liyang, China.

Meeting Agenda:

Discussion From The Department of Sports and Fitness

  1. JumpStart program to attract or retain membership
  2. Fitness on Demand
  3. Next level conditioning
  4. Outdoor Yoga at Steven’s Forest Pool and Haven
  5. Older Adult Classes… Aqua Fitness, Aqua Arthritis, Body Vive, Restorative/Gentle Yoga, Build your bones, LaBlast and more
  6. Small Group Training… Parkinson’s Punch, Fit Boxing, TRX-boxing, Kettlebells and more
  7. Exploring GymGo model
  8. Fir 3- year olds, Tennis Whizz training program
  9. 2018 Spring Monthly Skate Park competition

The Paris Agreement

The Columbia Association (“CA”) Board of Directors (the “Board’) voted unanimously to authorize the President/CEO to sign the “Open letter to the international community and parties to the Paris Agreement from U.S. state, local and business leaders” (the “Letter”), which is attached to this Resolution. The Board finds that the content of the Letter is in keeping with the accomplishment of CA’s purposes to respect the land and promote the welfare of the people of Columbia and its environs and with CA’s ongoing efforts to reduce its impact on the environment. Having made these findings, the Board hereby authorizes the President/CEO to sign the Letter on behalf of CA.

FY19-20 Budget Discussion

The board discussed FY19 and FY 20 Draft Capital Requests and did not approved it.

Allocation Formula

The board approved the new allocation formula and 3 year phase-in plan.

Contingency Fund

The board approved abandoning the contingency fund. The board approved distributing the money to villages ( each village gets 5%, CA gets 50%).

Reserve Cap

No decision now.

CA Board Work Session Meeting Summary 2017-10-12

Resident Speakout:

  1. Bill Santos, Wilde Lake, CA Aquatics Advisory Committee, talked about 2012 aquatic study, recommended a new pool.
  2. Tim Lattimer., Long Reach, urged the board to sign Paris Climate pledge, to create a CA climate advisory committee.
  3. Cliff Wright, Hickory Ridge, talked about the Paris Climate Accord.
  4. Richard Duitschmann, Owen Brown, urged to sign “We are still in” declaration.
  5. Dalia Shlash, River Hill, requested funding for tot lot upgrade starting from 2019.
  6. Larry Liebesman urged to sign “We are still in” declaration.
  7. Earl Sneeringer urged to build or use a Pickle ball facility with 6 or 8 courts, converting Owen Brown Bubble, or build one CA Sports Park.
  8. Joel Hurewitz, urged to sign the Paris Accord.
  9. Catherine Heilveil, graduate from River Hill, urged to sign “We are still in” the Paris Agreement.
  10. Pat Hedrsdy, Steven Forest, talked about “We are still in” pledge.


Energy Management Program Overview,

  1. launched 2012, to reduce energy usage, energy costs and environmental impact.  1 degree room temperature increase will need 2-3% extra energy cost. Right now Columbia Gym is set at 68 degrees (Recommend 68-72 degrees by industry standard).
  2. Energy cost snapshot: Supreme (15321 MMBtu) 23%, Swim Center (10155 MMBtu) 15%, Athletic Club (7787 MMBtu)11%, Columbia Gym (7241 MMBtu) 11%, Ice Rink (5045 MMBtu) 7%, all others 33%.
  3. Renewable Energy.
    1. Nixon Solar Farm generates 2500 MWh of electricity or 25% of our power
    2. Wind RECs purchased for remaining 75% of power
    3. Existing on-site generation at River Hill and Amherst House.
  4. Installing Electric Charge Station, 15K per installation , began to charge users at 0.20 per kW. Used to be free to users. BGE helped to reduce the overall program cost.
  5. 10-12 KW generated  by the solar array at the River Hill Swimming Pool. The energy can power one average household .

2019-2020 Budget Discussion (over 1 million dollar projects):

Category 1:

Columbia Swim Center Phase III renovation: 1.2 million dollars

Category II:

Athletic Club Renovation:  It was estimated that we need 24 million dollars to replace Athletic Club, without considering parking lots. We spent 2 million dollars, plan to spent another 5 million dollars for renovation in 2018-2019.  I was thinking that 50-year old building should be scraped from the ground and rebuilt.  There is a time we should cut loss and build something new.

Supreme Sports Club Renovation: 4.7 million dollars.

Haven on the Lake: 1.0 million dollars

Lake Kittamaqundi Planning and Dredging: 1.09 million dollars

Columbia Wide Pathway Renovation: 1 million dollars

Headquarter Building -Reserve for Deposit: 1.1 million dollars

The board was not able to finish discussing all the budget tonight, will continue the discussion next Thursday.

The board discussed the Dashboard metric briefly.