By editorial board • 

New construction likely the future for recreational center

Local residents surveyed by the McMinnville Parks & Recreation department were split on whether to renovate the aquatic and community centers or to build new structures. 

If respondents had seen the background numbers, survey results likely would have reflected more the opinion of the hired consultants and council. And while new construction seems to be the early favorite, there still are plenty of options to weigh in on.

At a Wednesday work session, the council reviewed a Master Plan Feasibility Study conducted by parks and rec consultants MIG, Inc. A physical assessment of the aquatic and community centers found a multitude of deficiencies in both facilities. Consultants determined a renovation of both buildings to serve future needs would be in the $52-$58 million range, while new construction would be in the $60-$66 million range. Given that renovation would still leave myriad compromises (lack of parking, for instance), it recommended the latter as a more responsible investment of public resources. 

Councilors agreed during preliminary talks this week. The early consensus seems to be a single building somewhere in the city to serve all parks and rec needs, which consultants said may create operational efficiencies and cost recovery benefits.

That may be tough to swallow for longtime residents prone to nostalgia. The community center was built in 1924 as an Armory, and renovated for recreational purposes in 1980. The aquatic center was built in the 1950s and expanded in 1986. City Park has been the home of McMinnville’s recreational pool for more than a century.

If new centers are built, the fate of the old ones would be unknown. Perhaps they could be repurposed by the city or a private party, but the reality that new construction costs about the same as renovation may put that possibility in serious doubt.

The discussion, however, is about the future, not the past. And the city must do what’s best for the population 10 to 100 years out. That said, the single-facility option needs careful consideration before being placed solely atop the list of options.

According to the resident survey, the most important activity offered by Parks & Rec is swimming and water fitness, for which the city has a history of strong programs. Not so much with the next two on that list: fitness/weightlifting and arts/culture/performance opportunities.

The desire for an enhanced arts programs surely is driven somewhat by the example set in Newberg. Partnerships with the school district and a nonprofit foundation helped create the Chehalem Cultural Center, a gem of the Valley that continues to expand with community support.

Speaking of partners, consultants outlined potential organizations to consider, including the school district, Linfield College, the hospital and the library. Linfield and the hospital, for instance, may be interested in a joint aquatic and fitness center near the college campus. The library — eager for more space and with building issues of its own — could make use of space within a new community center as a satellite campus or even a new headquarters.

The Parks Department has emphasized the process is in its infancy. The city needs to find the right piece of land and ensure a consolidated center is the public’s desire — before the roofs cave in on current facilities. However, as options arise, there will be more time for consideration and feedback from residents.

At the end of the day, they’re the ones who will be paying for it. 


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