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City hires consulting team for aquatic center study

by: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville Parks and Recreation Director Stan ShererIf Wilsonville residents truly are interested in seeing a new aquatic center come to life, then 2014 is going to be the year to make your voices heard.

The Wilsonville Parks and Recreation Department will be carrying out an economic feasibility study this spring to determine the best approach to building a new pool and recreation center — or if that even can be done in a cost-effective manner.

To lead that study, the city plans to retain the consulting team of Florida-based Sports Facilities Advisory and St. Louis, Mo., firm Counsilman-Hunsaker. Together, the two companies will carry out an 18-week study in Wilsonville that will involve market analysis, conceptual design, an operations and programming pro forma, site analysis and estimated construction costs.

The city received six bids in response to its earlier request for proposals for the study. In the end, staff settled on three consulting firms as finalists. Representatives from all three were interviewed at city hall on Jan. 7.

“The four staff members who rated the interviews and responses came to a consensus that the Hunsaker team were the most experienced and qualified to handle the study,” Wilsonville Parks and Recreation Director Stan Sherer told the council at its Jan. 23 meeting. “We’re currently negotiating detailed terms of an agreement, and once we get to that point they’ve put forward a completion schedule of 18 weeks. Everybody is very anxious to get this thing rolling.”

The study will cost between $78,000 and $82,000, money that is included in the city’s current budget.

Mayor Tim Knapp briefly questioned how the study could make the leap from cost and revenue projections all the way to a construction design.

“It’s a bit of a leap ... from there to construction designs,” he said. “It seems like there may be a sequence of interactions in there.”

The city, responded Sherer, needs to know what kinds of amenities are going to be included in any new facility — it could include a swimming pool and locker rooms, weight rooms, gymnasium and other features for starters — in order to calculate any revenue projections.

“But if it turns out that it’s not financially sustainable you’ll have to go back and redo things,” Knapp said.

If that’s the case, said Sherer, the city could ultimately decide not to move forward with a facility at all.

“One thing that impressed me the most when doing reference checks is that in a higher percentage of the projects this group did they made modifications to the design or they simply recommended the community not go forward,” he said. “What impressed me about that is this group will tell us what we need to hear and not what we want to hear.”

The study will be complex, that much is certain. What the end result will be, however, is anyone’s guess. Public open houses, design charrettes and other means will allow consultants to implement what local residents want into any final design.

Meanwhile, that will allow the study to move forward with operational models and cost and revenue projections that will attempt to meet a goal of an expense/revenue neutral business plan. Sherer said the study should be complete and a final report in council hands by August at the latest.

Ultimately, designing any facility that contains an aquatic component to be revenue- and cost-neutral will be challenging. The high cost of electricity, water, maintenance and upkeep of any municipal swimming pool often require a public subsidy, sometimes as high as 60 to 70 percent of its annual operating costs.

“We’re recommending a cost-neutral operation, and recognizing that is extremely optimistic, at least the goal is to get at least as close to that as possible,” Sherer said. “We realize that every aquatic center is going to lose money. But the degree depends on the other elements. There are profits to be made in the recreation center, and that’s how we want to offset the losses in aquatics to make it as sustainable as possible.”

Councilor Scott Starr pointed to the growing number of private companies that are sponsoring public facilities, including swimming pools, in different parts of the country.

“There is a growing trend of companies that are sponsoring sections of community centers,” Starr said. “That can help neutralize some of the negative effects if you choose to go that way. It might be interesting to see where we can partner with different organizations to make this thing operationally neutral.”



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