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Aquatic center task force kicks off latest planning effort


by: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - A new aquatic center in Wilsonville could benefit everyone from senior aerobics groups to age group and high school competitive swimmers, such as Wilsonville High graduate Christie Halvorsen, shown here. Public input gleaned over the last decade suggests that Wilsonville residents are strongly in favor of a new aquatic or community center.

Whether or not building a multi-million dollar facility is the right choice for the city, however, has never definitively been settled. That’s where the city’s latest citizen task force comes into play.

Headed by Wilsonville City Councilor Scott Starr, the new task force met for the first time March 26, gathering with consultants from The Sports Facilities Advisory to try and set some parameters for further discussion and — it is hoped — eventual action.

“I’m guessing people have come to this room with different expectations,” said Starr. “So it’ll be good to bring everyone together in this room so we can all be on the same page with how we want to proceed with this. There’s a lot to be done; and the main question is ‘Do we do a community center or not?’”

An answer of some kind should be forthcoming later this summer. Consultants have mapped out an 18-week course of action that starts with community surveys and other input, moves to a conceptual plan with possible sites and cost analysis before wrapping up with a final report.

“What we really want to look at is understanding Wilsonville’s definition of success,” consultant Eric Sullivan said.

The idea of building a public aquatic or community center in Wilsonville has come up on several occasions during the past 20 years.

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.

The idea gained new attention in 2005 with a new city feasibility study that came to much the same conclusion.

The largest barrier to date for Wilsonville 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. For example, it is estimated that the North Clackamas Aquatic Center in Happy Valley recovers just 65 percent of the money it spends on pool operations.

That’s a non-starter in Wilsonville.

This, consultants say, makes managing the public’s expectations key to the success of the most recent study.

“That’s why I say it’s a balancing act,” Sullivan said. “There’s no doubt a community center is feasible, the question is how much and how big; how many of those boxes can we check and still be financially responsible?”

Initial conversation among task force members suggests there is a way to go before any sort of consensus is reached. Voices were heard March 26 in support of everything from a large performing arts venue to an indoor water park or comprehensive indoor gym and recreation facility.

“I had envisioned things that, once you get past being able to run up and down the court, the things like exercise classes, yoga and tai chi, I think our community needs that kind of stuff,” said task force member Wes Morris. “To me, we need to have the facilities we have at the community center. It does a great job, they really do, but we’re outgrowing that tremendously.”

Former city parks board member Joyce Campbell agreed.

“This can’t all be about the pool,” Campbell said. “We need this facility to be around the clock, serving purposes to many age groups in our community.”

She noted that it also makes sense to cater to the people who will be asked to approve future financing in the form of a bond measure.

“The more mature adults are the most motivated voters in this town so you want to cater to them,” she said. “There’s a lot of kids who would benefit from this type of thing, but if you could get the older folks swimming early in the morning, and definitely in a competition-sized swimming pool. But at night I’d like to see people show up in their finery for performing arts.”

Starr, by contrast, pointed to an acute shortage in Wilsonville of access to public gymnasiums.

“We are in dire need of gym space,” he said. “Really, we need it. We also did a community survey last year, so the thing that probably ranked lower on the scale of what the community said, it’s not me saying this, was performing arts. It’s also the area that will contribute least to the sustainability of a community center, and that’s not to say we can’t do it.”

Starr added that Wilsonville’s location halfway between Portland and Salem provides the city with an advantage when it comes to attracting a more regional crowd to any prospective facility. He noted that Sherwood has attracted more than 14,000 paying members to its multi-use YMCA facility out of a population of just more than 24,000. He said Wilsonville should be able to duplicate that feat.

“Because where we are located, just being very accessible, I think that being a regional attractor is not going to be too hard,” he said. “So, that radius of where people will come from will probably naturally flow to us.”

Starr also expressed support for possible city collaboration with corporate sponsors to fund programs or even specific amenities. He even raised the possibility of hosting the Wilsonville Food Bank at a new community center.

“There’s some things I think we need to be creative about,” he said. “These are the kinds of things I’m asking that would bring more community to the community center.”

Whatever the makeup of amenities, consultant Kevin Post said, a balance is needed to ensure as wide a user base as possible.

“A lot of it revolves around attendance,” Post said. “If you want it to be a great community asset, people need to be visiting it ... it’s got to go from our newborns having classes in the pool all the way up to our senior water aerobics.”

By Josh Kulla
Assistant Editor / Photographer
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