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City tries to help out gymnastics academy

by: Vern Uyetake, Morgan Bolger gets an assist from Lori Tilton during a class at Tilton’s Gymnastics.

A local gymnastics academy is looking for a home and its owner - a former contractor through Lake Oswego's Parks and Rec program - is getting some aid from city officials, who may come up with a solution to prevent the youth-related classes from being lost.

Tilton's Gymnastics, operated by Lori Tilton, opened with two students about a year ago. Now, the program has a roster of 56 students and was selected as a Parks and Recreation program before a recent move.

But the program's relocation from rental space in the Wizer's building on A Avenue to the Lake Oswego Armory on South Shore Boulevard prompted the city to shut it down.

The zoning there does not allow commercial enterprises, a rule that protects the surrounding neighborhood from noise and traffic. Permits for a conditional use in this public function zone, as it is called, are not given to businesses.

'I looked everywhere for a new spot and nothing works or it's too expensive,' Tilton said.

She said her program outgrew the space on A Avenue and the 82nd Rear Operations Center, an Oregon National Guard unit based in Lake Oswego, has a large open room where her students could spread out and she was able to store a set of very large mats.

Tilton said she isn't able to work full time because she volunteers much of her time to primate rescue. She said other sites in town are unaffordable unless she expands the program, something she doesn't want to do because it would limit the attention she could give to each student and to her volunteer efforts.

Though she's been ready to give up the program through the debacle, Tilton said supportive parents refuse to give up the fight. Several have taken up efforts to support her, dogging city officials with phone calls and urging them to find a solution.

Mostly, Tilton said, she considers the possible loss of her classes a loss to local kids, not so much herself.

'I know that the city wants great programs for the kids so let's work together,' she said. 'The armory is sitting there, perfect … There's got to be a way.'

Lake Oswego officials share Tilton's concern about the loss of programs to local youth. Gay Graham, a city councilor, has contacted fellow councilors to share Tilton's problem and asked for input from city staff about solutions.

'I'm asking can we do anything here and if we do something, what are the consequences?' she said.

Graham said a hasty change to the public function zone could have unintended impacts for neighbors. She wants the issue thoroughly explored before any changes are made.

She said she regrets the city has no space to offer for programs like Tilton's and thinks the situation speaks to a greater need for public space in Lake Oswego.

'This is a good argument for a community center because if we can provide these kind of classes in one spot, then that makes sense,' Graham said.

She said she isn't sure where on the city council agenda Tilton's problem might fall or whether the city will be able to find a fix. Tilton is meeting with city staff this week to talk about possibly housing the program at the Safeco building on Kruse Way, which was recently bought by the city and is soon to be vacated by the insurance agency.

Parents, in the interim, are disappointed.

Kris Kildahl, whose eight-year-old daughter Madison Goodrich attends Tilton's, said the program offers a unique approach she can't find a match for elsewhere.

Tilton and her teachers - all local high school cheerleaders -focus primarily on tumbling and let students work at their own pace. They don't use equipment, instead helping students to develop muscle. Tilton discourages competition and fosters friendly relations among students.

At Tilton's, Kildahl said, Madison feels comfortable and proud of her accomplishments, is able to make friends and is attached to her teacher.

'She loves it, she absolutely loves it,' said Kildahl. 'We've just been hoping (Tilton) will find a location and be able to continue … It's been a great program. She just really loves these kids and I've seen my daughter accomplish things that surprised us both.'

Holly Gossett, whose six-year-old daughter Ellie is also in the program, said other private gymnastic academies are cost prohibitive.

'She's an affordable solution,' Gossett said of Tilton. 'She's a great asset to the community and they're not letting her do her thing … I think it's a real bummer.'

While city hall probes solutions, parents are waiting for word on whether the program will continue or end for good.

Tilton said she doesn't want any friction with city hall and will pay for a conditional use permit - $4,000 - or stop the program if she's asked to. But she believes city officials share her goal to help local kids stay active and is hopeful the red tape surrounding her problem can be cut.

'We've got this program, the kids like it, the parents like it, let's make it work,' she said. 'The focus needs to be the kids and it needs to be whether the community wants the program.'