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Wilsonville dips its toes into pool possibility

New aquatic center study will examine old issues


by: SHERWOOD YMCA - The city of Sherwood bonded for a pool and recreation center and the YMCA operates the facility, which opened in 1998. Wilsonville may consider a similar scenario when weighing its options.In the past 20 years talk has arisen on plenty of occasions about the possibility of building a public aquatic facility in Wilsonville.

As far back as 1992, according to minutes from a February 2006 Lake Oswego City Council meeting, an aquatics and recreational facility study took place to examine the possibility of the cities of West Linn, Wilsonville, Tualatin and Lake Oswego collaborating on such a project. Nothing became of that idea.

“That study identified the need to acquire approximately a 10- to 20-acre site for such a facility,” the council minutes state. “The other partners at the time decided to go their separate ways, and the project did not materialize.”

But the idea itself never went anywhere. It gained new attention in 2005 when the city of Wilsonville conducted its own feasibility study. That study, however, came to much the same conclusion, stating the city’s population was not large enough to sustain a center without considerable public subsidy.

Now, there’s a new parks and recreation department, a new department head and a new city council that has placed a higher priority on an aquatic center than did its predecessors.

The result will be another feasibility study to go along with a 15-member public task force that will examine the ins and outs of the issue. Currently, city plans call for the study to take place through the winter and into next spring. Final recommendations then would go before the city council by July 2014.

“I think that the list of task force members that I handed out is a pretty diverse cross-section of the community,” Parks and Recreation Director Stan Sherer told councilors during an Oct. 21 meeting. “It represents not only a trans-cultural but multigenerational approach, which this building will have to be designed for to be successful.”

City staff, Sherer added, will send out a formal request for proposal, or RFP, seeking bids on the feasibility study in the coming days. At the same time, the task force will provide input from a broader, community-minded point of view.

The architectural firm subsequently chosen to conduct the feasibility study will undertake market analysis to determine the center’s service area and demand for service within that area. A site analysis of several proposed locations will also take place, while an estimated price tag for construction will be attached to the conceptual design ultimately presented to the council for its approval.

Financial barrier

The largest barrier to date that has prevented Wilsonville from moving earlier toward its own recreational or aquatic center is the ability to make such a facility pay for itself over the long term. Upfront, the city is willing to undertake construction and related costs. But operating a swimming pool of any size can be prohibitively costly.

By some estimates, the city of Lincoln City, which has operated its own aquatic and community center since 1981, subsidizes roughly 60 to 70 percent of the center’s operating costs each year. Lincoln City has a service area significantly larger than the city itself, but it is nowhere near enough to break even. Instead, the city long ago made a strategic decision to operate the center regardless as part of an effort to draw tourists to the coastal town.

Closer to home, the North Clackamas Aquatic Center has been cited as a huge financial drain, recovering just 65 percent of its expenditures.

That’s a non-starter in Wilsonville, which has long identified this as a key sticking point.

A 2005 “Statement of Qualifications for a Community Recreation or Aquatic Center” produced by city hall as part of the study process stated this upfront.

“A city population of approximately 25,000 (with a high percentage of children) will be needed before an indoor recreation/aquatics facility can operate without subsidies,” reads the statement. “Due to the small population base, the viability of a center has not been realistic.”

Last week Sherer drove the point home once again.

“Most importantly,” he told the council, “we’re looking for a programming model or models that is designed around the goal of making this as self-sustaining as possible.”

One example could be the Sherwood YMCA. The city bonded for the property and construction of the building, which opened in 1998, and the YMCA acts as the operator of it.

The city of West Linn is also attempting to dive into the water. On the Nov. 5 ballot, the city is asking for approval of $24 million in bonds to build an aquatic and community center. The city of West Linn currently owns about 7 acres of property that has been earmarked for such a facility.

Josh Kulla can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 113. Follow him on Twitter, by: SHERWOOD YMCA - The city of Sherwood bonded for a pool and recreation center and the YMCA operates the facility, which opened in 1998. Wilsonville may consider a similar scenario when weighing its options..




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