How about a modest city center?
Instead of a grandiose community center with major new construction for up to $100 million, how about a modest center that buys the property and remodels the existing building for an affordable cost of under $40 million?
The Steering Committee (of which I was a member) recommended that if the Center was too expensive, then the Council should consider the proposal to be a master plan with its elements to be phased in over time. So what should be done at this time? The Council's challenge is to develop a sensible and affordable proposal that voters will actually support. The Center must be trimmed down from up to $100 million ($20 million for the property, $60 million for project and site development costs, and $20 million if a main library is added) to its most essential element - purchasing the property and to remodeling the building for use as a Community Center including a small library.
The grandiose big-ticket items that should be cancelled (or at least postponed) are primarily the aquatics center (lap and recreation pools) and gymnasium. Consideration of a new main library should also be scrapped. But what should be pursued, at a reduced and value engineered cost, are many of the other uses. They are well suited to the existing building, which is in great condition. These uses include fitness and group exercise rooms, multipurpose rooms, meeting rooms, classrooms and a community 'family room.' Parks and Rec could hold many of its classes there rather than renting out space in scattered locations. A youth center and some senior activities and support services could be included. It could also provide a Community Hall with a catering kitchen that would provide LO's largest facility (approximately 400 people) for graduations, auctions, receptions, etc., and would be a major revenue producer to support the Center's operations. Perhaps most significantly, a small library station or branch could be opened and operated at a low cost while keeping the downtown library open.
A $40 million bond to fund a modest community center would reduce the property tax cost to less than $12 per month for the average LO house with a tax assessment of $600,000. If other uses are added to the price tag, then support will dwindle and it will soon overreach voter willingness to support it.
Since the Steering Committee started its work in May 2006, many factors have increased the difficulty of winning voter approval. Voters are in no mood to support a grandiose and expensive center while there is a crescendo of other more compelling and immediate needs. Yet if the Council offers a modest, affordable and highly practical proposal, which focuses on utilizing the existing building and site assets, it might win. Citizens might actually be pleasantly shocked at the council's responsiveness and ability to balance citizens' legitimate concerns with the city's other necessities, and support may galvanize.
Then in later years, as the Community Center has become a busy and valued part of community life, one or more of the other envisioned facilities can be considered for a vote. So by opening a modest center in the existing building now, under the rubric of a master plan but waiting to add new uses until later, citizens may be willing to support a Community Center now and perhaps again in the future.
Allan Solares is a resident of Lake Oswego.