For once, aquatics talk goes swimmingly

If you're a fan of the water, there's cause for dancing in the, um, wading pool.

First came the City Council's agreement Thursday to spend about $100,000 this spring to fix up Medford's two aging outdoor pools so residents can use them for at least one more summer.

Then followed a report that Medford likely could build and operate a regional water-play park without having to raise taxes to pull it off — and that it might be ready to use two summers from now.

One insider described the news as outlining "a way forward" finally for a city that has been talking about new pools for something like two decades but has never found a way to get them built.

It's not that the conversation resolved everything — that remains a distant goal. But it clearly brought new momentum and optimism to a discussion that has had neither of late.

The public face of municipal pools here looked bleak as late as last month, when city staff recommended closing the west side's Jackson Pool for everything but lessons this summer because of costly maintenance demands.

Thursday's decision to spend the money for maintenance means it and Hawthorne Pool on the east side will open for at least one more summer, providing an important escape from Medford's heat for people who have no other options.

Neither pool looks to have much of a future beyond the immediate, but the council also heard Thursday that a study by Regional Economic Models Inc., a Massachusetts consulting firm, shows Medford could pay for a water park through user fees rather than with new taxes.

The company researched similar parks around Oregon and concluded that Medford could support a 12,000-square-foot park that includes two water slides, a "current river" and other play features. Because there's nothing like that available in Southern Oregon now, it says, Medford's would be a regional draw.

The concept leaves wide open the question of if, when or how Medford might ever build a year-round aquatics center, a vision outlined in a 2007 report that talked about lap and competition pools alongside water-play spaces. Such a center, the new report concludes, could not be paid for with user fees alone.

Thursday's discussion raised other questions as well: where the water park would be, whether one of the city's current pools would be kept open so easy access from neighborhoods would remain possible, whether admission fees could remain affordable and still pay for the project.

Still, we'll dither over the details of a plan any day if the alternative is giving up on it altogether. Finally, that spirit seems evident in City Hall's approach to pools as well.

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