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Lake Grove Swim Park: A historic landmark?

Advisory board wants the designation, but the school board has doubts
by: vern uyetake Thomas Boe, 11, cooled off last week by taking a plunge into the lake at the swim park in Lake Grove.

The Lake Grove Swim Park has been around since most Lake Oswego residents can remember. Originally owned by the Oregon Iron and Steel Company, the site has remained a popular summer location for many residents.

Constructed in 1927, the Lake Oswego Historic Resources Advisory Board now wants to add the site to its Landmark Designation List. However, the park's governing body, the Lake Oswego School Board, has its doubts.

Lake Oswego Associate Planner Paul Espe and former HRAB chair Tia Ross proposed the designation during the Aug. 23 school board meeting. The designation is intended to preserve the park and its history, but the school board is concerned about losing authority over the park.

Located at 3800 Lakeview Blvd., the park has been the center of several debates through the years.

The Lake Grove Swim Park was built by the Oregon Iron and Steel Company as part of a residential development and as part of the 'Live Where You Play' campaign. Oregon Steel deeded the property to the Lake Grove School District. In the deed are clear restrictions. It states the park is designated to be used solely by the residents of the then-Lake Grove School District for recreation.

From 1927 to 1952, associated park costs were funded through a Lake Grove School District tax levy. Anyone in that tax district could use the park.

When the Lake Oswego and Lake Grove school districts consolidated in 1953, the park was given to the Lake Oswego School District to operate. The district paid for the park with a citywide tax.

The acquisition of the swim park put Lake Oswego School District in a unique position. It is probably one of the only districts that owns and operates a park. The school board has to also act as a park board.

'It's unique,' said Ross. 'Face it, school boards don't normally operate parks.'

At the time of acquisition, it was determined the park wasn't big enough to serve all of Lake Oswego and opening it to the general public would be in violation of the original deed. However, making all of the district pay for the park that only some of the residents could use was a source of contention.

In the 1956-57 school year, a board was developed to find a new way to pay for costs associated with running the park. They suggested forming a park and recreation district. It was defeated.

In 1958, the district levied a tax against the residents in the old Lake Grove district. This model has been used ever since.

In 2008, some Lake Grove residents became enraged over a deal the school district made with the city. The district granted the city a temporary easement to use the property as a staging area for the Lake Oswego Interceptor Sewer project. At the time, residents felt the school board acted behind their backs because they were not informed about the decision. Also, many thought the easement violated the 1927 deed restrictions, which clearly state the park's sole purpose as recreation.

According to Ross, had the park been named a historic landmark at the time, the district would never have been allowed to grant the easement.

When a site is designated a landmark, there is an approval process for all changes, additions or improvements. All proposed modifications must go through a historic review by city staff to preserve the integrity and character of the site.

School board member Linda Brown questioned the definition of character.

'Character is often defined as what is already in existence,' she said. She pointed out the snack shack and asked if structures could be updated.

Espe assured her changes could be made to the site, but they would need to be approved and compatible with the history of the site.

Ross said, 'The park is more significant because of its history, not its structures. The buildings in and of themselves are not significant.'

She did mention the steps down into the park and the retaining wall are original to the park and their importance.

The school board questioned their limitations of controlling the site as well as the implications the designation may have if the district wants to transfer the park to another entity.

Board member Bob Barman was opposed to the designation, saying the board would be giving away its authority.

'Why would you give away that authority?' he asked. 'To give away our rights is not something I'm interested in.'

Ross countered that many of the park's patrons would like to see it on the list.

'There's a lot of passionate people (who) want to see this on the list,' she said. 'It doesn't make you lose control.'

Brown said the board has explored in the past 'getting out from being a park board.' She said she would rather focus on education.

However, Superintendent Bill Korach stated that although the district has explored that option in the past, lawyers have determined it would go against the deed.

'This is just a way of showing good stewardship,' said Ross. 'I think it offers you guys some safeguards.'

Barman said the board could be good stewards without the label, 'like we have for the last 50 years.'

Korach said the board's main concern was understanding what authority it would be giving up.

'It could put us in a position we could not operate as effectively with this designation,' he said. 'We want to present it in a way that will be in the best interests of the community.'

Both the board and the superintendent stated the district has no plans or intentions to change the site or how it operates, but they want to make sure they understand all the implications the designation could incur.

The board, expressing the need to get more information about the designation process, did not take any action during the school board meeting.