As the Wilsonville City Council prepares to take up a proposed $26 million aquatic center later this year, the details underpinning the project are sure to come under greater public scrutiny.

What the council ultimately decides could have a significant impact on local property tax rates in the form of a bond measure. This makes figures presented last month by the Sports Facilities Advisory, a Florida-based consulting firm retained by the city to guide planning for the project, truly critical. The company, which has gained a strong national reputation for its work, is aware of this.

“I want the task force to ask the question, to think about it from the perspective of your neighbors,” said Evan Eleff, the company’s vice-president. “I want you to ask the tough questions that people want to know most specifically.”

The citizen task force, appointed earlier this year by Wilsonville City Manager Bryan Cosgrove, went on to vote 7-1 to place a $23.6 million facility in front of the Wilsonville City Council for consideration, likely by the end of the year. It is the first concrete proposal for such a facility in more than 20 years of feasibility studies, public surveys and other discussion.

If ultimately approved by the City Council, the final cost would likely be paid for with a capital bond that would include an extra 10 percent contingency funding for a total bond package of roughly $26 million.

As presented, Wilsonville’s future aquatic and community center would be a 78,000-square-foot multi-purpose facility with both competition and leisure pools, basketball courts, a fitness center and classroom space. Critically, the mix of amenities and programming included in the proposal could, if current projections hold, allow the facility to become financially self-sustaining within five years.

The projected cost of the facility includes roughly $4 million set aside for land acquisition, although constructing the project on existing city property would save that money.

Three important topics were discussed at the Sept. 23 task force meeting: bond payback, pool size and staffing and management.

The first, how long of a payback period should be considered for a capital bond, will have an outsized impact on the final price tag of any pool and community center considered by the city council.

“We need a hard number so we can say this is what it’s going to cost you for X number of years,” task force member Eric Bohard told colleagues.

Existing city research on the matter is sparse, but Cosgrove said that in rough terms a $30 million capital bond measure paid back over 20 years would mean a property tax increase of around $209 a year on a home valued at $282,000. A 10-year bond would boost the former figure to just under $332 a year.

“We ran a much higher number than what we ended up with,” Cosgrove said, “so it’ll be significantly less than that. It’s also good to run 10, 20 and 30-year paybacks for comparison. I’d never recommend you go more than 20, but if there’s a desire to keep the average cost down for homeowners you can go a little farther.

“There’s a lot of unknowns at this point.”

Cosgrove also noted that as assessed value of property in the city grows over time bond costs will correspondingly fall for the average individual property owner.

Task force member and former City Councilor Steve Hurst also raised another point: The future need for a facility overhaul.

“I agree we should not to push things past 20 years,” Hurst think. “By limiting the bond length it will allow the city to pay for upgrades after the initial bond is paid off.”

Design, build, operate

Already, the groundwork is being laid for a second major Wilsonville facility to follow the design, build and operate model used successfully to construct the city’s new wastewater treatment plant.

The $26 million pool and community center proposal is even premised on this.

“A key portion of that is in the management structure, truly,” Eleff said. “The cost of employees in the public structure, it’s very expensive to have city employees and it’s something to look at and hone in on. The private management is one of the key pieces, and, truly, the other piece is our track record at Sports Facilities Advisory. It’s assumed that someone with our track record is managing the facility.”

As laid out in a five-year pro forma prepared by consultants earlier this year, the proposal assumes the facility will start with five full-time management staff and up to three full-time administrative assistants.

There would be total payroll costs of $1.35 million in year one, rising to $1.93 million in year five as both membership and membership management staff numbers rise in tandem.

Upper management would actually change the least in that regard, rising from $325,000 to $351,000 annually in years one through five. Membership and program managers, the persons responsible for actually running the basketball, futsal and volleyball leagues, not to mention the pool, take up an understandably bigger chunk of change. Costs in this area go from an estimated $694,000 in year one to $1.06 million in year five.

“It takes time to ramp up,” Eleff said Sept. 23. “And membership is over half of your revenue, so that ramp-up is the big reasons for that jump.”

Cosgrove said the city’s experience with its new wastewater treatment plant, which was designed and built by private firm CH2M Hill and now is operated by Veolia, has shown the advantages to this approach.

“The design, build, operate model gives city better control over final costs, based on our experience with the wastewater treatment plant,” he said. “The unknown to me right now is the operational model; the public or private model is a key piece for this.”

Large swim competitions ruled out

Eleff’s presentation included extensive market research that showed how Wilsonville can use its geographic location to attract a wide range of potential customers to a new aquatic and community center. There are nearly 150,000 people within a 15-minute driving radius of central Wilsonville, a number that jumps to more than 1.1 million if that radius extends out to 30 minutes. That will be the base from which the city will draw its customers.

They will be drawn to a pool intended for families first and competition a distant second.

United States Swimming, the sport’s governing body, uses both 25-yard and 50-meter pools in official competitions. Oregon Swimming is the same, notwithstanding a small number of 25-meter pools in Oregon, most notably those in Oregon City and Lincoln City. Eleff told the task force planners briefly considered a 25-meter pool for Wilsonville but quickly ruled it out. Moreover, the $26 million final cost estimate hinges on a 25-yard, six-lane pool; any tinkering with those dimensions automatically render moot the former number. In other words, the larger the pool, the larger the cost.

“In terms of the number of people and impact it would have, going out to 25 meters was not in regulation with the majority of meets that happen,” Eleff said. “We stuck with a 25-yard pool for operational costs.”

The other dimension to consider is width; the Wilsonville pool would only be six lanes across, as currently envisioned. By contrast, U.S. Swimming championship meets use eight-lane venues like those at Tualatin Hills or Mount Hood Community College. Wilsonville would not be considered for large events.

“Hosting meets was certainly considered in the process,” said Wilsonville Parks Director Stan Sherer. “When it was reduced down to a six lane pool it was simply to expand the leisure opportunities.”

A six-lane pool would still be sufficient for smaller competitions such as high school dual meets, as well as training. But the true aim of a Wilsonville pool will be entertaining families and their kids.

Task force member Craig Faiman has been working for a pool in Wilsonville for two decades now. He said 25-meter pools certainly can support more swimmers per lane — at a cost.

“I’m also really sensitive to the operational feasibility of this thing,” said Faiman, who ultimately voted on financial grounds not to forward the proposal to the City Council. “So if these guys come back with ‘six lanes, 25 yards’ I’m going to go ‘Okay, let’s do that.’”

Faiman added that striving for a regional swimming venue would “kill the economic viability” of the original idea of a community center.

“This is great for high school competition, but not more,” he said. “We don’t want to host a heck of a lot of meets.”

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