New rec center, waterfront space targeted in parks plan
A lot has changed since West Linn last updated its Parks, Recreation and Open Space master plan in 2007.
After an extended sequence of land acquisition and development that began with a bond approval in 1998, the city's park space is essentially maxed out. A community pool measure sank amid deep and uncertain financial waters. New trails were built, and the Adult Community Center expanded.
So as the City works toward approving a 2018 update to the plan — the draft of which was recently presented during a planning commission work session — it enters something of a new era. According to Parks and Recreation Director Ken Worcester and Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Ken Warner, the time has come to focus more on what to do in the parks, rather than where they'll go and what's in them.
"Programming is probably going to be the biggest initiative," Worcester said, "because most of the parks are developed. We've got some structures (to build), capital maintenance programs, but I don't see us adding a whole lot more park areas."
The plan is intended to lay out the department's goals for the next 20 years, but is generally revisited every 10 years. That process began last year when the City issued a community survey that generated nearly 2,000 responses.
The City was thrilled with that response level, particularly because — as Warner pointed out — the last standalone parks and recreation survey was in 1998.
The 2017 survey showed that residents generally hoped to see a greater variety of recreation activities in the city — particularly in relation to river access and swimming opportunities.
With that in mind, the City honed in on two potential long-term projects to be included in the 2018 plan: the construction of a new recreation center and the addition of a new "waterfront park" that would support a variety of in-water activities.
Worcester said the recreation center would likely be located on a City-owned property at 3332 Parker Road, and it would not include a pool — though it would be possible to add one at a later date if feasible.
"It's primarily going to be gym space," Worcester said. "Gym space is really one of the challenges city-wide. Not only do we utilize school gyms as much as we possibly can for the youth sports, but we have very little open time for adults."
Warner said a new recreation center would also alleviate concerns about the usability of aging facilities.
"Right now we use Sunset Fire Hall and the Adult Community Center, and the fire hall is great for some things," Warner said. "But with today's environment people want hardwood floors in everything, they want mirrors, they want equipment that can be stored. The days of people wanting to do yoga and fitness on concrete and tile floors are a thing of the past."
Worcester and Warner said the department isn't equipped — financially or in terms of personnel — to operate what they called "satellite centers" like the old Bolton Fire Station, which some citizens hope to see converted into a community center.
"If we have to actually build them in every neighborhood, it would be way more than a centralized center," Worcester said. "And if we refurbish existing buildings to a level that the community really would want ... we're still probably close to the cost of a centralized center."
"And another thing looking forward is just the operation costs — what it costs just to open the doors with a renovated smaller facility," Warner said. "The heating and cooling and the security, custodial services, maintenance, upkeep, landscaping, all those things that ultimately affect our budget go up."
The waterfront park would likely be located somewhere between Willamette Park and the McLean House and act as something of a stand-in for an indoor aquatic facility, which remains unlikely to arrive any time soon due to funding concerns. Two possible sites for that park are the 39-acre former Blue Heron Paper property on Volpp Street — which is now owned by Clackamas County Water Environment Services (WES) — and a property owned by West Linn Paper in the same area.
"We envision roping off areas for swimming and paddleboard rentals, kayaking, possibly some river swim lessons, because it's a different dynamic swimming in a river than a pool," Worcester said. "There's all kinds of stuff you could do just to get people in the river and enjoying it."
The City isn't writing off the idea of an indoor pool facility, but Worcester said funding continues to be a major issue and a regional partnership with other cities would likely be necessary to make it a reality.
"I think a service district specific to swimming or aquatics might be the solution," he said. "But nobody here wants to drive to Wilsonville to go swimming, and vice versa, and that's why I fear we'd end up with more than one pool. ... In a big enough district, you could probably make that work, but they'd then be competing with each other, so I guess the revenues would become a challenge."
As play structures at a number of parks near the end of their lives, the plan also calls for creativity in replacing the park infrastructure.
"The plan talks about a lot of different features as possibilities, but we're working with the community to find out what those new adventure amenities might be," Warner said.