By editorial board • 

Case strong for new facilities, but siting remains unsettled

Reading the 129-page report presented to the city council Tuesday, the urgency of McMinnville's community center, aquatic center, library and senior center needs is virtually irrefutable. They demand addressing in the hear-term, not some distant point where economic and political stars might better align.

Unlike the grandiose wish lists often ginned up by like-minded advocates, this plan seems remarkably well-grounded. To its credit, the committee decided to leave visions of a performing arts center element unfulfilled and settle for restoration rather than replacement for the senior center — something simply not feasible for its more obsolescent counterparts.

The next step is both urgent and crucial — choosing from two viable community and aquatic center sites, after a dozen others fell by the wayside. One is a 63-acre commercially zoned tract abutting Linfield University, the other a 14-acre industrially zoned site abutting Joe Dancer Park and McMinnville Water & Light.

Both meet the city's 10-acre minimum. The council needs to move expeditiously to decide which is more feasible.

Before going to voters, the city will also need to flesh out plans in more detail, compute costs more precisely, factor in operational and maintenance needs, develop a phased construction schedule and open everything up for public scrutiny. All of these steps are site-specific, so there's no time to waste.

Linfield is proposing joint use on its site, which would require a larger and most costly 50 meter pool; determining how to allocate time, space and facilities without shorting community users or competitive swim teams; negotiating terms for lease or purchase of a large and very high-value tract; and working out shared operating and maintenance terms. The parties have a long history of cooperative ventures, but differing interests, perspectives, timetables and management structures would have to be overcome.

The college has never previously been open to selling holdings, which could limit the city to some form of lease agreement. And according to the report, the school aims to complete a new campus master plan before deciding the tract's fate, which could impose unacceptable delay.

The smaller site is owned by Water & Light, the city's utility arm, so neither outside parties or joint-use considerations would come into play.

Due to its zoning, location, size and lack of highway access, it carries a much lower market value. So working out details for that location figures to prove less problematical. It has the added advantage of being connected to McMinnville's largest recreational facility in Joe Dancer Park.

Regardless of how that all sorts out, members of the committee and council seemed united at Tuesday's joint presentation on approaching the project in phases over a period of years. The city pulled phasing off to good effect with its recent parks and streets bond issues, as well as its police station and civic center projects, so that seems both feasible and wise.

The combined four-element pricetag is projected at $138 million by the time ground is broken, without knowing how much to factor in for a community and aquatic center site. That puts a premium on favorable site terms.



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