Lake Oswego City Council will decide whether to plunge into pool project
When Lake Oswego voters approved a $187 million school bond measure last year, they included $7 million to replace or repair the Lake Oswego School District's aging and dilapidated swimming pool.
But before any concrete plans are drawn up to build a new facility, the City Council is planning to discuss the possibility of joining the project — a move that could potentially create a full-scale community pool in Lake Oswego.
The current eight-lane, 25-yard pool is located on the Lake Oswego High School campus and is owned and operated by the district for both athletic and community uses. For Lake Oswego residents, it's the only local pool option outside of private athletic clubs or neighborhood pools owned by homeowners associations.
The pool is 46 years old and deteriorated beyond repair, though, so the bond money allocated by voters will have to go toward a replacement. It's also heavily used and frequently booked to capacity, which has prompted members of the community — particularly members of the Lake Oswego Swim Club — to call for the district to make the replacement much larger.
"Right now during peak usage hours, from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., not only is the pool in use, but the Swim Club rents water time from Lewis & Clark and PCC," says Swim Club member Carolyn Heymann.
This summer, the Swim Club commissioned a study from the pool design firm Counsilman-Hunsaker to develop recommendations and estimated costs "in the interest of helping the school district move more quickly toward building a pool," Heymann says. The results were presented to the School Board in September, and published on the Swim Club's website.
The study recommended a 50-meter pool that could be divided in half by movable bulkheads, creating a total of 16 lanes, as well as an adjacent three-lane warmup pool. The report also suggested using a stretched fabric roof over the pool to save on construction costs, and recommended that the pool site be a minimum of 3.06 acres.
The estimated cost to build that project: $13.3 million.
That's more than the district can afford to pay on its own, so the Swim Club has been urging the City Council to consider picking up the rest of the tab to help build a new pool that would better serve both the school district and the larger community.
That leaves the council with a question, says Parks & Recreation Director Ivan Anderholm: Should the City of Lake Oswego be in the pool business?
"(It's) really kind of a high-level policy discussion," Anderholm told The Review, "where council will be discussing or maybe making a decision on what level, if any, they support both the capital of building a community pool and, secondarily, supporting the operation of a facility."
Swim Club members and other pool supporters have been pushing hard to make their case. The issue became one of the most-discussed topics at last week's City Council open house, where several attendees called for a larger pool with a greater amount of City involvement.
Some of the attendees at the meeting spoke out about the condition of the existing pool, with multiple parents saying they had to take their children to pools outside of Lake Oswego to attend swimming lessons.
Several residents argued that a 50-meter pool would have the potential to bring in new City revenue, both as a venue for community athletics and as a destination for school swim meets. A couple of visitors pointed to a City-run community center in Federal Way, Wash., which opened in 2007 and includes two pools, as an example of the type of facility they'd like to see built in Lake Oswego.
"There's a huge demand, and swimming is the most popular sport," one visitor told City Councilor Jeff Gudman.
But City officials say any City-owned pool would almost certainly operate at a loss. According to Anderholm, a City pool would be cheaper to operate if it were part of a larger recreation center, but it still wouldn't break even.
"You don't have anyone on council saying we don't need a pool," Councilor Skip O'Neill told The Review, "but they're asking, 'What do we have to give up to get it?'"
The topic has also intersected with another ongoing question faced by the council: deciding the future of the municipal golf course, which has been operating at a loss in recent years due to a declining interest in golf.
One of the options under consideration is to shrink the size of the course and use the extra space to build a recreation center, which would serve as a golf course clubhouse and a permanent headquarters for the Parks & Recreation Department.
Counsilman-Hunsaker's report listed that hypothetical recreation center as one of three possible locations for a new pool. The other two options were Lake Oswego Junior High School, which is scheduled to be rebuilt using bond dollars, and an undeveloped piece of City property on Stafford Road near Luscher Farm.
Some of the visitors at the open house raised the issue of the locations outlined in the report, and there was a clear consensus against sacrificing any of the golf course to do it. Some of the councilors appeared to share that opinion.
"At the golf course? No way," said Mayor Kent Studebaker in reference to a pool location.
Anderholm and City Manager Scott Lazenby both told The Review this week that it's far too soon to be talking about potential locations. Even if the council decided to join the project, Anderholm said, the City would conduct its own location search from scratch.
The pool discussion carried over into Tuesday's council meeting, where a number of pool supporters testified in favor of a community pool during the public comment period.
Gail Grimstone, a 37-year resident of Lake Oswego, said she thought the community would benefit from the therapeutic uses of a pool, particularly elderly residents.
"I'll be 80 in a few months, and swimming has become the one thing that has been wonderful when you have replacements of joints," she said. "It's the first thing that physical therapists will say you should do."
Another resident, Maya Barba, talked about the central role that the current pool has played in the life of her family, and said its overcrowded schedule is becoming untenable. Masters practice, she said, currently takes place from 5:30-6:30 a.m. with only three lanes available.
"All my kids learned to swim in the LO pool, and all my kids have healed injuries by swimming," she said. "It's very important that there are hours to swim that work for peoples' schedules, and that there's space to swim."
The council was scheduled to hold a study session about the pool discussion later in the meeting, but councilors opted to delay the discussion until their next meeting on Dec. 19.
Lazenby said the intent of the study session will be to resolve the underlying question of whether the City should be involved in the pool business in the first place. Other discussions about the type of pool, the location and the funding mechanism would only come up if the council opted to move forward.
He added that the council may opt to gather more feedback from the city's residents before making a decision, possibly as part of an upcoming Attitude Survey that the City is tentatively planning to conduct in the spring.
"There is obviously a pretty organized group that's interested in that," Lazenby said, "so one decision the council may make is just decide to do more community surveying to see to what extent that's favored by some substantial number of residents."