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Can Wilsonville build a cost-neutral aquatic center?

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Could Wilsonville support an aquatic center? That's the $64,000 question being explored by city staff and consultants right now, and the early research suggests it just might be possible in the medium- to long-term. After being just a hazy outline for some 20 years, the idea of building an aquatic-community center in Wilsonville is coming into focus with a five-year operating plan recently presented to a citizen task force.

The big question at hand, however, remains: Will the aquatic center be able to sustain itself without financial help from the city?

“Basically, all they’re trying to figure out is if this facility has the capability of recovering operational costs,” said Wilsonville Parks and Recreation Director Stan Sherer. “Ninety-nine percent of the facilities across the country do not, especially in the beginning.”

But the operating plan, crafted by Florida-based Sports Facilities Advisory, suggests that Wilsonville might well be the city to buck those odds, through a combination of increasingly favorable demographics and the right blend of attractions.

The plan includes a 78,622-square-foot recreation center that would combine a 25-yard, six-lane swimming pool with a gym containing two full-size hardwood basketball courts, a fitness center, multi-purpose rooms for boxing, dance, cross training and much more.

In addition, the plan — which remains subject to significant modification — also calls for a 6,000-square-foot leisure pool, a feature that could determine whether the facility would be able to operate on a cost-neutral basis.

“In the ones I’ve operated, I think there’s an understating in the political body that the aquatic element is going to be a money loser,” Sherer said. “When those facilities were built there weren’t a lot of leisure pools. And with the leisure element it gives us a lot better chance for higher revenues because of the diversity of population it attracts.”

According to consultants, the facility would cost about $1.4 million to operate over the first five years. Much of that cost will be staffing, including 30 or more lifeguards, Sherer said. At the same time, the facility can expect to see revenues just about double during that same time period, according to the plan, allowing for a slight profit by year five.

To reach that goal, the Wilsonville facility would need to be a regional draw, pulling in users from Tualatin, Sherwood and other cities.

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - STAN SHERER“They based the revenue projections and ultimate feasibility on competition in the market, proximity to the facility and identifying the primary service areas,” Sherer said.

Wilsonville City Councilor and Task Force Chairman Scott Starr said he would like to see potential collaboration with the business community when it comes to funding a recreation center. But, he added, the process is nowhere near that point yet.

“I’d love for the private sector and different folks to step up and bring down the costs for everyone,” Starr said. “But we’re not there yet in the process and ready to hand it back to the public yet.”

At the same time, he added, the idea that Wilsonville has a shot at building a cost-neutral facility has grabbed his attention.

“The first question to go on is, ‘Is this something that could even be sustainable?’” Starr said. “And they said, ‘Yes, it is,’ because of Wilsonville’s location and draw, not only from within, but from outside the community. It would be able to maintain the costs on an ongoing basis.”

Task force member Laura LaJoie emphasized the need for a facility that will draw users from the entire community.

“The hardest part is that it’s been such a long process,” she said. “You’ve got other community members who have an agenda for what they want the pool used for, but the reality is you need to make a facility that has multi-purpose use so it can create an income to sustain the maintenance of the facility. It can’t just be a gift to the community from the city, and I don’t think it can stand alone on its own.”


By Josh Kulla
Assistant Editor / Photographer
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