Voters sank the pool levy, but Medford officials still may plunge forward with plans to chase away the criminal element at Hawthorne Park by making it more family friendly.
"If we don't make that park attractive to the decent folks who would use it, we abandon it to those folks who make it a less desirable place to bring our families," Councilman Bob Strosser said. "In its current state, it is unusable."
Voters on Nov. 6 rejected a $14.5 million pool levy that would have built new aquatics facilities at both Hawthorne and next to Jackson Elementary School.
The existing pool at Hawthorne has been closed for almost two years because it leaked 30,000 gallons a day. Every year, city officials struggle to keep the aging Jackson pool open.
Strosser said the voters have spoken. Nevertheless, he thinks the city should pursue other improvements at Hawthorne Park.
The Medford Urban Renewal Agency had set aside $1 million to upgrade the park as part of an overall revitalization effort in the downtown.
In recent years, Medford police have responded to a stabbing, assaults, public urination and unwanted sexual advances at the park. Many local residents avoid the park because it has become known as a hangout for transients.
A study prepared for the city by Group Mackenzie of Portland laid out a plan for a new playground area near Jackson Street, basketball courts, extensive lighting, a water feature, removal of some trees to improve visibility, increased parking, more walkways and other features, including a dog park for small and large dogs. The dog park at Bear Creek Park would remain open, as well.
The estimate for the improvements was $1.5 million, or about 50 percent more than MURA had budgeted. The pool is a separate item.
Without a new pool, it will be more difficult to maintain a year-round, family-friendly environment at the park, Strosser said.
Still, Strosser said he thinks the proposal to rehabilitate the park will encourage more children and their parents to use it, particularly with a more modern play structure added.
With the pool off the table, Strosser said the city will have to review the plans thoroughly to make sure they achieve the end result of a safer and more appealing park.
Rich Rosenthal, Medford recreation superintendent, said plans to remodel the park still could make it a vibrant place to visit, though the defeat of the levy will mean the loss of an important amenity, along with the potential to have no municipal pools in Medford.
Rosenthal said Jackson pool is 52 years old and has 30,000 users every summer.
"At some point that pool is going to fail despite our best efforts to keep it open," he said. "There is no guarantee that Jackson will reopen next June because of issues with its structural integrity."
Robin Laughlin, landscape architect with Group Mackenzie, said a new playground, an enclosed dog park and a skate park are some of the many new features that would make the park more attractive.
"My experience with park design is that when you change the features and try to attract a different user group, you change the demographics of a park in a positive manner," Laughlin said.
The type of design offered to the city allows for completing all or some of the features as funds become available.
In particular, a new playground with a splash feature would be a major draw, she said.
"Sometimes when you put a new playground at a site, it draws a whole lot of new users," she said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.