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With budget cuts threatening to close other Community Center, one is set to upgrade

DAVID F. ASHTON - The Mt. Scott Community Center, called the only full-service Community Center in Southeast Portland, now needs considerable repair to assure safe and reliable operation, says the Parks Bureau. When Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) announced in March that the Mt. Scott Community Center would be undergoing about $15 million in renovations and upgrades, the neighbors who've been supporting the threatened Community Centers in Woodstock and Sellwood expressed concerns.

The proximity of Mt. Scott Center – located 1.7 miles east of the Community Center in Woodstock – is cited by the city as reason to potentially close the Woodstock and Sellwood Centers in the operating budget cutbacks proposed by Mayor Ted Wheeler.

The Mt. Scott Community Center was designated as a "Build Portland" project, an initiative funded by the Portland City Council, via a recent Office of Management and Finance ordinance.

"This project is separate from the potential cuts which PP&R was mandated to propose in our budget for the coming Fiscal Year – for the seventh time in ten years – where we have had to submit cuts, instead of maintaining or increasing our budget," reported PP&R Public Information Officer Mark Ross.

"And, even when we have had funding added which have kept the Woodstock and Sellwood Centers open, it hasn't been to replace the services which were lost in previous cuts – rather, it has come with new responsibilities, such as taking over maintenance of public fountains from the Water Bureau," Ross told THE BEE.

DAVID F. ASHTON - Many segments of the Mt. Scott Community Centers roof are said to be in need of replacement. Far from the planned renovation being a beauty makeover of the Mt. Scott Center, Ross pointed out, is that this project is needed "to assure safe and reliable operation in the coming decades", because parts of this 70,000 square-foot facility date from the 1920s.

The project, he said, addresses these issues:

· The roof is failing

· One of the major air-handling units is failing

· The old half of this 1920s facility has never been updated to code, condition, or functionality requirements

· Its an Unreinforced Masonry building, which has only had a partial seismic retrofit

· Radon was discovered and mitigated in 2016, but other HSE issues remain

· The City's insurance carrier identified the need to install fire sprinklers and gas shut-off valves there

Some of the roofing work has already taken place, Ross remarked, adding "Within the next two years, full design for the whole project will be mapped out."

DAVID F. ASHTON - Some parts of Mt. Scott Community Center were constructed in the 1920s and need repair, officials say. The project is estimated to take approximately three to four years Ross revealed.

Community members who commented to THE BEE about the project all said they were made aware that the funds for Mt. Scott Community Center renovation were from a different source than the noperating funds.

Dawn Haecker, of Friends of Woodstock Community Center, commented, "It's probably a good thing that money is being invested in Mt. Scott; there are many areas that could use attention.

Haecker wondered, "If $15 million is available for improvements [at Mt. Scott], why is the city claiming there isn't enough funding to do even routine maintenance on the other Community Centers?" She also asked, "Can the plan be scaled down, or implemented more economically, to make this possible?"

Ross clarified about funding: "System Development Charges (SDCs) – the funds to build new parks – and the Parks Replacement Bond and "Build Portland" projects, are separate from the General Fund, from which we have been directed to submit 5% potential cuts. Those other funds cannot, by law, used to supplement needs of the Portland Parks & Recreation General Fund."

"I'd be interested to know how much Parks Bureau SDC money is being generated in Woodstock, and how much is being reinvested in Woodstock or Sellwood," wondered Haecker. "But, I want to be clear. I do not begrudge the opportunity to improve the Mt. Scott building."

Woodstock Neighborhood Association Chair Elise Edgington, speaking for herself, commented, "We're glad to be geographically located close to Mt. Scott Community Center; they have many classes, the pool and roller rink, and we wouldn't want it to go away."

However, Edgington added, "It appears as if preventative maintenance hasn't been done. When we were approached about supporting the Parks Replacement Bond, and when voted for it, we believed it would help keep our own Woodstock Community Center open."

Gail Hoffnagle, of Friends of Sellwood Community Center, chimed in, "I do not resent Mt. Scott Community Center having money to improve their building. It is a well-used Community Center and I do not want to pit one Center's needs against another Center for financing and improvements.

"It does tell me, though, that the Park Bureau is quite capable of coming up with money for repairs and improvements if and when they choose to do so," Hoffnagle remarked. "The Park Bureau has decided that 'mega centers' are preferable over small centers. Yet, the Park Bureau has made no attempt to create new 'mega-centers', and even if they did, it would be impossible to locate places for them to meet the '20 minute neighborhood' goal outlined in the city plan."

She continued, "Small Community Centers are vital to our neighborhoods – and are called 'Community Centers' and not 'recreation centers' for a reason. The emphasis is on creating and maintaining community, with recreation programs serving as the vehicles to help us connect, grow, and play, as a group."

The Park Bureau needs to change its mindset about small community center recreation programs, Hoffnagle suggested. "They are vital to the city, as well as to the communities, and they are well worth the money and time spent to keep them open and in good working condition."

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