Pooling our resources

Medford city officials have some hard work ahead of them if they hope to convince voters to approve a $21.6 million bond issue for a new swimming pool and an aquatics center.

The most recent proposal calls for moving the city dog park from Bear Creek Park to Hawthorne Park, where two new dog facilities would be constructed, one for small dogs and one for larger canines. The BMX track now at Bear Creek park would be moved closer to the Little League fields to make room for a $12.4 million aquatics park designed to accommodate up to 1,200 people at a time. Jackson Pool would be replaced with a 50-meter competition pool with a removable cover allowing it to be used year-round. A water play structure would be installed, with free admission.

The city's Parks and Recreation Commission has decided this is the best mix of water recreation for Medford's future. Parks and Recreation Director Brian Sjothun points out that Medford residents now pay less than $50 per person for recreation, compared with $62.11 in Central Point and $190.24 in Ashland. Fair enough.

But convincing voters to pay more — the cost of the potential bond issue is estimated at $8.14 a month for a home assessed at $250,000 — will be a tall order. That's $97.68 per year.

That doesn't directly relate to Sjothun's per-person figure, because the roughly $100 annually is per household, not per person, and plenty of Medford homes are assessed at less than $250,000.

But opposition to the idea of an aquatics center has been strong, with many residents questioning the wisdom of building such a facility in today's economy. We supported the idea of an aquatics center when it appeared ticket sales would cover its construction costs. That's no longer the case. Now voters will be asked to build it.

The Parks and Recreation Commission, which apparently believes this latest plan is in the city's best interest, is made up of recreation enthusiasts and advocates, so there is a certain amount of echo-chamber thinking going on.

Still, Medford clearly needs more public water recreation opportunities. The city has closed 60-year-old Hawthorne Pool because it was leaking 30,000 gallons of water a day. Jackson Pool can handle only 240 people at a time, and residents are being turned away on busy days.

City officials are talking about putting a water recreation bond on the ballot in 2012 or 2013. That leaves plenty of time to educate voters about the details of the proposal, and for the economy to recover more than it has so far. But it's not a stretch to say that if the bond measure were on the ballot now, it would go down in flames. It still could, even next year or the year after.

What then?

City officials should be clear with voters about what the backup plan would be, and they should have one. It's entirely possible voters would approve a smaller bond measure to build two new traditional swimming pools.

Sjothun says public interest in conventional pools is declining nationally. That may be true here as well, but so far, city officials haven't convinced us, or the voters.

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