Proponents, opponents discuss their opinions on community center plans

by: Sam Bennett, John Surrett of Ask Lake Oswegans addressed the Lake Oswego Community Center Steering Committee last Thursday.

Ask Lake Oswegans about a city-proposed community center and you'll hear no shortage of opinions.

At two public forums last week, locals shared their views on the controversial community center with a steering committee assigned to report to the city council.

That committee's report, 1½ years in the making, goes to the city council Tuesday. The meeting will be at 6 p.m. at city hall.

It will not be a meeting for public testimony. However, Mayor Judie Hammerstad this week said the council should schedule public hearings so residents can tell councilors what they think about the center.

The council is likely to get an earful from people who have good and bad things to say.

Proponents say the center would be an asset to the community, giving Lake Oswego a focal point for athletic and community events.

Opponents say the council surreptitiously purchased the property last year for $20 million, bypassing the voter-approval process and putting taxpayers in debt for a low-priority project - compared with state-mandated projects such as the $100 million sewer interceptor line.

A $60 million general obligation bond would mean a $105 annual charge per $1,000 assessed value, or $315 on a $300,000 property.

The cost to taxpayers could be reduced if the city strikes a public/private partnership for developing the property - an idea that the steering committee and council members such as Kristin Johnson said should be explored.

Some opponents have organized under the name Ask Lake Oswegans, and are circulating petitions that would force the city to request voter approval for property purchases more than $2 million.

That approval process would be retroactive to the community center property, called the West End Building, giving voters a chance to finally decide whether to purchase the property. If enough vote against the purchase, the city would have to sell the property.

If the city keeps the West End Building, which is on an 8-acre site on Kruse Way, it could spend as much as $60 million renovating the building, according to BOORA Architects.

At last week's meetings, center supporters said they like the idea of having a recreational pool/lap pool, as well as a large library at the site.

'The lap pool is going to serve an ever-growing aquatic community,' said Bernie Keany. 'The lap pool hopefully will include a 250-seat spectator area that will bring economic growth to the restaurants and lodging to the area.'

'We need the pool and the ability to teach kids to swim,' he said.

Sherry Finnigan touted the idea of having a main library at the community center. Speaking for the Friends of the Library, she said 'We see a library as the anchor for the center.'

She said the current library in the First Addition is too small, and DVDs and CDs are displacing books.

The steering committee said a new library at the center could cost between $3 million and $25 million, depending on its size.

In opposition of the renovation/ expansion plan, Jacqueline Heyden-rych said 'the council is not listening,' and accused city officials of moving Parks and Recreation staffers into the West End Building as a way of creating a need for the building.

'It is a bait-and-switch designed to hold onto the property,' she said.

Gordon Umaki praised the steering committee for its work, saying the proposed design is well thought-out.

'If only it were free,' he said. 'I, and many other members of the community, are quite concerned that the cost of the facility was not considered as part of the factors considered in the design process,' he said. 'We have a facility that is much too expensive.'

After the public hearings, the city council is expected to endorse a plan for the center by July. The matter could go to voters in fall of 2008.

Ask Lake Oswegans hopes to have its charter amendment ballot measures before voters this fall.