By editorial board • 

Small step for Water & Light a big step for our community

The McMinnville Water & Light Commission unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding last week on the sale of a 27-acre Marsh Lane site to the city for a new recreation center — an edifice aimed at replacing aging, deteriorating community and aquatic centers.

No big deal, you say? After all, it’s just an expression of intent. It’s subject to expiration in two years without an extension or renewal, and revocation by either party in the interim.

Think again. This action, taken by a body that rarely ever makes the news, is crucial to any realistic chance the city has of moving forward on replacement of heavily used and highly prized public facilities that have long since reached the end of their useful lives.

There are two key ingredients in any major public project: a suitable, affordable site and the money to build on it. To harbor any hope of persuading voters to authorize the latter, of course, you have to have the former in hand.

Only about 14 acres of the so-called Moore Property is buildable, but that meets the city’s 10-acre minimum. In the bargain, it abuts the Yamhill River and Joe Dancer Park outdoor recreation mecca, features ready access via Lafayette Avenue and Riverside Drive, and enjoys reasonable proximity to McMinnville’s downtown core and middle and high school facilities.

What’s more, it promises to come at a vastly more affordable price than the contender of city dreams — a commercially zoned Linfield University site that would command a king’s ransom, assuming school trustees would be willing to part with it at all.

The city has compiled a stellar record of delivering on major projects of this ilk. It has built a fire station, police station and civic center in recent years, and delivered the goods, on time and on budget, via a series of park and transportation bond issues.

It figures to need all the goodwill that kind of record provides to bring this project home, given the initial projected price tag of $111 million. However, compromises are inevitable as it moves forward, and there is realistic hope city officials can negotiate an acceptable cost figure in consultation with their constituents.

The city is also eyeing $3.5 million in senior center renovations and construction of a new public library on the aquatic center site. That pushes the total outlay to an estimated $138 million.

But the elements can be addressed in phases over time to ease the impact, and funded separately. The operative watchword is one at a time.

The community center is making do in a sprawling brick structure erected in 1924 as a National Guard armory. The aquatic center dates back to the 1950s and the library all the way back to 1912 — more than 110 years now.

The needs are real. These facilities are in dire need of replacement.

The study leading to the current recommendations commenced almost eight years ago with formation of the MacPAC Committee. Key driver Zack Geary of the McMinnville City Council was on hand for the unanimous Water & Light approval, coming on a motion by former longtime mayor Ed Gormley.

The Water & Light staff devoted a full year to due diligence on its past, present and future land needs before signing off. That’s a clear indication it will remain available if the city can secure the necessary funding.

As we opined previously in this space, “Planning is all well and good, but carrying plans through to fruition is what counts at the end.” And in our view, this moves us a very big step forward.


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