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Parks to fix cracks in city's living room


At 32 years old, Portland’s living room will soon get a major facelift.

Planning is underway for a $10 million renovation at Pioneer Courthouse Square, part of the $68 million Portland Parks & Recreation bond replacement levy approved by voters last fall. At least 30 projects citywide are scheduled for completion in the next four years.

Built in 1984, Pioneer Courthouse Square’s 40,000 square feet of gathering space has for years suffered from a leaky waterproof membrane, cracked brick plaza, deteriorating structural columns and restrooms needing safety and accessibility upgrades.

“We’re definitely looking forward to stopping some of the leaks,” says Susan Palmer, visitor center services manager at Travel Portland, whose office is based at the Square. “On a really bad, rainy day, there’s one spot we need to be careful of for the visitors and put a caution sign and bucket out, because it does drip.”

A 2006 city-funded report found that the membrane — rated at 20 years — was “at or approaching failure,” and two reviews in 2013 found moisture coming from an unknown source and an “unexplained anomaly” at the center of the Square.

The new work will replace the membrane, retrofit the restrooms to meet current compliance codes, replace the aging HVAC and central control system, remove the skylights to stop the leaks, and add handrails and other features to adapt to code.

Attracting 10 million visitors each year, Pioneer Courthouse Square is the most high-visibility parks bond project and also the biggest ticket item on the list. (See project list with allocations.)

Construction at the Square is set to start in November and be completed by December 2017.

While this project is a fairly straightfoward maintenance fix, other projects are demanding much more public process.

For instance, the Couch Park playground replacement at Northwest 19th Avenue and Glisan Street has a bond allocation of not more than $1.6 million, plus another $500,000 that will fund a new Portland Loo.

The nonprofit groups Friends of Couch Park and Harper’s Playground are also trying to raise another $500,000 in private funds by October to build a new playground for children of all abilities.

In the public meetings that have been held so far, parks officials have heard from a lot of passionate neighbors.

“The biggest issue is people have a longer list of stuff they’d like to do” (to improve the parks),” says Mary Anne Cassin, parks bureau’s bond program manager. “They always have good points. But the bond dollars are limited and our first call is to finish the basics of what we promised.”

Parks spokesman Mark Ross says voters must keep the big picture in mind: The bond is just one source of funding to address the much longer list of critical and urgent needs.

“We have a 10-year need of $472 million,” Ross says. “Our unfunded maintenance overall is $248 million. It’s great to have $68 million and reopen Couch Park playground and make sure Grant Pool doesn’t fall apart, but it’s not the only endeavor needed.”

In addition, parks staff estimate their growth needs at $47.2 million per year, or $472 million over 10 years.

System development charges (one-time fees assessed on new development) will go toward those needs in the meantime.

In the meantime, a five-member bond oversight committee has been meeting quarterly to review the projects and will report to the council this fall with an update.

At the committee’s next meeting later this month, they’ll focus on how the bond will deliver its promise of equity.

“We’re defining it broadly,” Cassin says. First, in their hiring practices — they’re looking for certified minority-owned, women-owned and emerging small business firms, which garner higher scores in the hiring process. “We’re paying a lot of attention to that goal,” she says.

There’s also the outreach process, which will involve engaging community members where they are, Cassin says — in their neighborhoods, at places of worship, at markets and other local gathering places.

The parks bureau has hired five project managers, a public involvement specialist and a procurement specialist to conduct the bond work.

Three-quarters of the funds — $48 million — have been committed so far, with urgent needs identified during the bond campaign.

The second list, with $20 million available, will launch this year with public involvement, considering both critical needs and equity in geography.

Parks bond projects

• The bond includes fixing or replacing seven playgrounds, including: Creston, Couch, Kenton, Lents, Lynchview, North Park Blocks and Ventura Park.

• Three trail and bridge projects, including: Maple Trail, Forest Park (Macleay Park bridges) and Springwater Corridor Trail (replace bridges, stabilize trail).

• Three pools: Grant, Matt Dishman Community Center and Peninsula.

• Two work sites: Mt. Tabor Yard and the Urban Forestry Team at Delta Park.

• Other work is set for Pioneer Courthouse Square maintenance and accessibility improvements systemwide.

For more info: portlandoregon.