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Board recommends $2 million allocation to LOSD pool, council to revisit issue in September

A community pool, athletic fields and trails topped the Lake Oswego Parks and Natural Resources Advisory Board's list of park bond priorities which were presented to the City Council during a study session at its regular meeting Tuesday.

Following a brief public input period that saw more than 1,300 Lake Oswegans surveyed, as well as input from the statistically valid phone survey conducted by LO Parks & Recreation last fall, the parks board submitted its reprioritized Capital Improvement Project list to the council for consideration, while urging City Council members to work with the Lake Oswego School District to come up with a plan for building a new aquatic center that fits both community and school district needs.

Park board co-chairs Scott Bullard and Bill Gordon also pitched the Council on allocating funds to the establishment of a recreation center for parks programming as well as centralized office space for the LO Parks & Rec, which is currently a department spread across several locations within the city.

In May, voters overwhelmingly approved the parks bond initiative which will see an additional $30 million worth of funding trickling in over the next 20 years for acquisition of open space, renovating existing facilities and capital improvement. Over the past month, parks staff and the park board have been discussing priorities and hosting public outreach events to gain as much feedback as possible.

"As we started the prioritization process, these historical projects, many of which have been on the list for years and years, we had prioritized those in the past and there was maybe a little movement, but then we hit the swimming pool," Gordon said. "Frankly, a few of us thought that the swimming pool would be a brief discussion because up to this point aquatics was part of the school district's responsibility, not the city's."

Gordon was wrong however, and in a four-hour meeting at the LO Operations and Maintenance Center last month, the park board had a spirited discussion over the fact that if the school district's pool was to be placed at Lakeridge Middle School, there would be a loss of a substantial number of athletic fields.

"That might not concern us if the City didn't already have a shortage of fields," Gordon said. "As we talked about it, this became more and more of a concern, and it didn't appear to us that the school district or city had property to make up the loss of fields. That bothered us a lot."

According to Gordon, the board delved into the question of whether the aquatics business is better addressed by the school district or the City via the Parks & Rec department, to which the answer was that the majority of the aquatics business falls under Parks & Rec in most communities.

The park board suggested that the City Council consider the big picture question of whether it wants to be in the pool business, and if the answer is yes, to set up a meeting with the school district to discuss potentially building an aquatic center attached to a potential recreation center.

Bullard and Gordon then walked the council through some of the numbers they'd come up with as far as how much to allocate from the parks bond to each of their CIP priorities which included $4 million toward the repair and replacement of existing parks facilities and structures, $12 million toward a recreation center and reconfiguration of the golf course, $2 million for a community pool, $4 million for new fields, $4 million for land and open space acquisition, $3 million for projects at Luscher Farm and $1 million for trails.

Each of these projects would have greater total costs which would be subsidized from other sources such as system development charges ($7.5 million) and Parks & Rec's departmental budget ($3.5 million) to support a total overall cost of $72 million for all the projects the park board is proposing.

The lower priority, unfunded projects include the Tennis Center expansion and pickleball courts ($1 million), skate park ($1.5 million), Pilkington Park improvement ($500,000), Canal Acres, Bryant Woods and River Run park improvements ($3.5 million) and several others totaling about $17.5 million.

Both Councilors Jackie Manz and Skip O'Neill pointed out that the Tennis Center and pickleball courts continue to see some of the highest use of all LO Parks & Rec facilities, and yet they fall fairly low on the list.

Earlier in the meeting during the citizen comment period, it was pointed out by a resident that there's no proper viewing area at the Tennis Center and if you want to watch your child or other family member play a match, you have to either peak around a curtain or put yourself in harm's way.

Councilor Theresa Kohlhoff agreed that the Tennis Center is in need of updates and that it will receive its improvements in due time, but the public outreach showed the pool is the number one priority for the community for bond funding.

"I think you did a masterful job of mixing (the pool) up with the yearning for a recreation building, and I give you credit for that, but the pool still came out first," Kohlhoff said.

LO Parks & Rec indeed does have plans to improve ADA accesibility at the Tennis Center, as well as make improvements to the viewing area, but an expansion of the center is the portion that has been left unfunded.

Kohlhoff pointed out that the park board's list of priorities for funding estimates a pool would cost around $20 million, but on a recent field trip down to the Chehalem Aquatic Center she learned their pool came in at around $25 million.

"If the school district were to come up with $18 million, are we saying we'd truly only come up with $2 million? Is that how we're doing that? Or would we stretch to get it up to $25 million if that's what it took to get the warm water recreation pool as well as the competitive pool that meets the school district's needs?" Kohlhoff asked. "Would we be able to get this aquatic center at the golf course?"

Anderholm replied saying that, according to a space feasibility study completed by Robertson Sherwood Architects, an aquatic center attached to a potential recreation center could theoretically fit at the golf course.

The council will review these recommendations made by the park board ahead of what is expected to be a lengthy discussion over priorities at the council's next regular meeting Sept. 3.

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