City Council votes to keep Lake Oswego out of 'the pool business'
Lake Oswego City Councilors voted 4-3 on Tuesday to not contribute any funding toward the ongoing maintenance and operational costs of a future pool that will replace the Lake Oswego School District's current facility.
The decision during a work session at Tuesday's council meeting appears to have resolved at least one part of an ongoing discussion about whether to accept a proposal from the LOSD for the two governing bodies to work together on a new community pool.
The possibility of the City making a one-time capital contribution to help build the pool has not been ruled out, councilors said, but the broader question of whether the city should be in "the pool business" was tentatively resolved by Tuesday's vote — and the answer is no.
"I struggled with this, but my struggle is over," Councilor Skip O'Neill said. "I think I'd leave it up to the School Board about the location and how it should be built. I would just say that the school district — they got it, they're going to build it and they'll own it."
The three dissenting votes came from Councilors Joe Buck, Theresa Kohlhoff and John LaMotte, all of whom said that it was too soon to make a definitive decision. Buck said he wanted the City and the school district to have a more open discussion about funding models, and LaMotte said feedback from residents showed a need for pool service from the City.
Kohlhoff added that she thought the City could make the pool profitable enough to prevent the operating expenses from cutting into other City services.
"I think we have sufficient creativity to extend programming that would make it not a definite cut in other services," she said. "I think we can do it."
But they were outvoted by O'Neill, Mayor Kent Studebaker and Councilors Jackie Manz and Jeff Gudman. Studebaker and O'Neill both said they thought the school district had the resources to handle the pool on its own, and Manz said she had concerns about other things the City might have to give up to meet the costs of the pool.
Gudman also pushed back against the idea that the pool could be operated without a loss, citing assessments from Parks & Recreation Director Ivan Anderholm that showed an estimated annual loss of $250,000 to $400,000, depending on the type of pool facility.
"It's just not going to happen," Gudman said. "We don't need additional information to determine that."
The discussion spilled over into a subsequent study session about the future of the municipal golf course, which has been cited as one possible location for the pool. LaMotte and Kohlhoff both indicated during the first study session that they would prefer to see the pool built at the golf course.
The second study session was described as a check-in opportunity for councilors to review City staff's progress on conceptual designs for a new Parks & Recreation center at the golf course, and to offer informal feedback about the funding mechanisms under consideration.
But the designs presented at the meeting did not include a pool at the site, and several councilors appeared to interpret the pool's absence, along with the earlier decision about operational funding, as an indication that the pool would likely not be built on the golf course or other City property.
LaMotte abstained from a series of informal votes about possible funding mechanisms for golf course improvements, arguing that the council had not adequately studied the possibility of including a pool on the course. And Buck later declared that the community pool concept appeared to be "on life support."
According to City Manager Scott Lazenby, no official decision about the location has been made; the question will still need to be resolved at a future council meeting, he said.
The remainder of the golf course study session focused on plans for the Parks & Rec center and on possible funding mechanisms. Anderholm reported that the expected cost for the project had been reduced, thanks to some refinements in the design.
The concept plans divide the project into two phases. Phase 1 would construct half of a new Parks & Rec center, including core offices and programming spaces, and extend the golf course's existing parking lot. Phase 2 would add more programming space to the building, along with a possible gymnasium.
The space for the new buildings would be created by reformatting the golf course as either a 9-hole "executive" course or a 12-hole "hybrid" course. The council didn't make a final decision about the size of the course on Tuesday, but Anderholm said the staff recommendation would be for a 9-hole course, to allow for more design options.
The estimated cost of Phase 1 has been reduced from an original $7.6 million to $6.25 million, due to reductions in the size of the building from 24,598 square feet to 18,637 square feet. The scale of Phase 2 has been reduced as well, for a combined estimated cost of $9.1 million. The cost of reformatting the golf course and driving range is still estimated at $2.5 million, for a total project cost of $11.6 million.
"With those reductions, we did not take rooms away," Anderholm said. "We right-sized rooms and sharpened our pencils on the orientation — what those rooms would look like and how people would flow through the building."
Buck asked whether the Phase 2 gymnasium was necessary, and Anderholm replied that it would be needed for the programs that currently use the gym at the Palisades building. However, he said, the department didn't have access to a gym before the move to Palisades, so it could simply cut activity services back to pre-Palisades levels.
But if the gym is added, he said, the council definitely won't have to worry about it being underused.
"Lake Oswego could use 10 gyms in the winter and they'd be full," he said.
Anderholm outlined several possible one-time funding sources for the project, prompting Studebaker to call for an informal vote on each one to provide the department with direction for further development of the plans.
A majority of the council appeared to tentatively support using tourism fund dollars, increased fees on utility companies and the sale of a small amount of golf course land as funding mechanisms.
Sales of other City property, an extension of the parks bond and a Parks & Rec levy all received a more even mix of votes, with some councilors opting to vote "maybe." Only one option was unanimously rejected: rerouting a portion of general fund dollars that are currently added to the street maintenance fund.
Anderholm said the Parks & Rec Department's recommendation would be to complete Phase 1 using existing funding, and save the possibility of a bond for Phase 2. But the decision would largely depend on how many of the one-time options the council is OK with, he said.
At the end of the meeting, the council also held a study session on a planned community attitude survey, but ultimately opted to cancel it after discussing several of the potential topics — such as the pool and short-term rentals — and concluding that the various discussions had already advanced to the point where additional public feedback wasn't necessary. Cancelling the survey saves $27,000, according to City staff.
However, Manz urged the council to take a more definitive final vote to settle the status of the pool project at a future meeting, including the question of whether the City should make a one-time payment to help construct it.
LaMotte also recommended that the council send a letter to the School Board to officially notify them about the operating cost decision and get their feedback.