Lake Oswego officials opted to spend $245,000 Tuesday to put their Parks and Recreation Department in the West End Building (formerly Safeco) on Kruse Way.

In the package, hundreds of the city's recreation programs will be moved to the facility, bringing citizen use to the site before a vote on a proposed community center takes place.

Mayor Judie Hammerstad said the move does not signal city interest in retaining the building should citizens vote against developing a community center there.

Instead, she said, the change makes use of the $20 million building bought by the city last year while a vote on a community center is pending.

'We run a parks and recreation program in the city, taxpayers pay for that already. We're not doing anything different than we do in other building venues,' Hammerstad said.

Currently, the city's Parks and Recreation Department operates hundreds of programs in school gymnasiums, at the city's US Bank building on State Street, the Adult Community Center and in other, sometimes privately owned venues.

In 2005, the department ran 1,835 programs for 219,095 participants and grosses only 5 percent of the proceeds. Courses range from sports camps and fitness programs to preschool and infant activities, after school programs and classes for adults.

'Schools used to be our primary access. That's becoming less so as the years go on,' said Kim Gilmer, director of Lake Oswego's Parks and Recreation Department, in a presentation to the city council Tuesday.

'We get a lot of last minute facility cancellations,' she said, adding that program hours are frequently restricted to late afternoons and weekends.

In a proposal approved by the council Tuesday, hundreds of those programs will move to the West End Building. Remodeling there will make way for the programs and also for the Parks and Recreation Department, which will move out of city hall.

Inside city hall, an additional $10,000 to $15,000 is planned to fund modifications of the old Parks and Recreation space. A variety of uses for the space are being contemplated.

Of $245,000 allocated for changes in the West End Building, $39,000 will fund new office equipment for the department, $77,0000 for technology upgrades and $63,000 for structural improvements to accommodate programs and office space.

The adjustments will bring preschool and child activities, some sports programs, art, music, indoor play days, programs for special needs children and some youth and after school activities into the building.

Intergenerational events like dances are also planned. Gymnasium events, however, will still be staged at local schools.

Changes will take effect in fall 2007, exactly one year before a vote on a community center takes place. Whether that vote passes or fails, locals can expect to see disruption to Parks and Recreation programs as part of any election outcome.

If a community center is approved, extensive remodeling of the West End Building will put the Parks and Recreation programs out of the building temporarily. If the proposal is rejected by voters, city leaders may sell the building and relocate programs back to old haunts.

'It would be my preference that (the building) stay in public ownership but I think the council will have to discuss that,' Hammerstad said.

Talks Tuesday raised concerns about whether the move would ultimately cost more instead of saving rental fees for program space in private facilities.

'I feel like there's a whole lot more to the story than a few walls being moved,' said John Turchi, a city councilor, who challenged the notion that the West End Building is 'free space.'

'I'd like to have a sense of how it offsets costs. I'd like to have a rental value per square foot. Are we moving from low rent property to high rent property?'

Ultimately the group voted unanimously (Frank Groznik was absent) to make the change, with the caution that it could be temporary.

Turchi said later that he wanted the city council to think about the issue from all sides but does see a need to put the West End Building to use.

'Regardless of what we do, people are going to be critical of us regarding the use of the West End Building. I also think there are a number of people who would want us to use the building,' he said.

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